Readers scoff at Verizon's fee explanation

Last month I wrote about Verizon's claim that IT-related costs justify its charging customers, including me, $5 a month to keep a telephone number unlisted. Assuming that explanation to be hogwash, I invited readers to offer their own assessments ... and many did.

The consensus: hogwash. Here are a few excerpts:

"It is not that unpublishing a number costs money. ... The issue is that the number cannot be resold to third-party marketers who would love to have access to your number to sell you their (possibly) useful third-party product or service," writes Wolf Halton, expressing the most common of the alternative explanations. "... If this revenue model ever catches on in other industries, you might expect to receive a monthly bill from your neighborhood printer for the service of not printing your business cards."

A number of readers cited historical precedent for the fee.

"This reminds me of when they used to charge extra for providing a touch-tone line instead of a pulse line," writes Don Hughes. "The fact of the matter was that the network was touch-tone based and they had to add extra terminal equipment to provide the pulse dialing. So, in effect, that were charging more for the service that was cheaper to provide but more popular. Why? Because they could."

So obvious that even a child could see, too.

"Way back before the late Judge Greene's fantasy that breaking up Ma Bell into regional monopolies would create competition, they charged an extra buck or so per month for Touch-Tone dialing because they could get it," writes Anthony Scandora, Jr. "I knew someone at NY Telephone who said they could give a Touch-Tone phone to everyone who still had rotary for far less than it cost to maintain rotary dialing support, but they were enjoying what they were raking in on Touch-Tone service charges and kept it coming for as long as they could.

"Many years later I still refused to pay a surcharge for what should have been a discount. A little girl was once in my house and asked if she could call a friend. She put her finger into the 5 hole and didn't know what to do. I showed her how to dial and she thought it was really great. They eventually dropped the surcharge and then I dropped my rotary phones."

But at least one reader did come to Verizon's defense, albeit in a back-handed sort of way.

"At a previous job, I developed directory assistance database software from scratch. ... I can tell you with 100% certainty that there is no reason for Verizon or Mom & Pop Telephone Co. to have any more expense for handling an unlisted, or unpublished, phone number than a listed one.

"(However,) the problem isn't really Verizon. It's their job to charge consumers as much as they can for the services they provide. The issue is state regulators. The regulators really don't care if Verizon is charging folks $5 per line for unlisted/unpublished numbers. Phone companies aren't simply going to give up that revenue (even though it has no appreciable impact on their bottom line) because it's their duty to earn as much profit for their stakeholders as possible.

"So if you really want to point a finger at someone about these fees, you ought to consider pointing it at state regulators. It's up to them to get rid of these excessive fees."

Don't hold your breath.

Have another view? The address is buzz@nww.com.

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