Where's the beep? Cell phone users revolt against money-wasting voicemail prompts

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Why is it that whenever you try to leave a cell phone message for someone, after you hear their outgoing voice message, you hear a recorded voice rambling on with more information?

"To page this person, press five now," the AT&T one goes. "When you are finished, you may hang up, or press one for more options."

We know how voicemail works. Why do they bother?

I'll tell you why. The phone companies do it to rip you off. The longer you have to spend to leave or retrieve voicemail, the more minutes you use, and the more money they make.

David Pogue, technology writer for The New York Times and contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning, snagged the confirmation.

He buttonholed some cell phone execs at an international conference in Italy, and they admitted ("point-blank" Pogue says) that the automated instructions for leaving voicemail exist to make you use up more airtime. To use industry lingo, those messages are merely padding to maximize the Average Revenue Per User, or ARPU.

Pogue crunches the numbers this way: If Verizon's 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a day, the company stands to make about $620 million a year. As he adds it, those customers would spend an accumulated three hours a year "just sitting there listening to the same message over and over again."

These outgoing messages are not just a waste of our money. They're a waste of our time.

They insult our intelligence, too. If you don't know what to do after the beep in 2009, how did you manage to dial the phone to begin with?

On Thursday in the Times, Pogue begged his readers to "rise up" for what he called the "Take Back the Beep Campaign." He called on consumers to fight back and named contacts for the Big Four mobile phone companies, all of which promised to listen if enough complaints roll in:

"* Verizon: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/FJncH.

* AT&T: Send e-mail to Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations: MS8460@att.com.

* Sprint: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/9CmrZ

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/2rKy0u"

"If they ignore us," wrote Pogue, "we'll shame them." (Yeah! I'm flicking my Zippo over here! He said that in the Old Grey Lady, no less!)

Contact your cell phone company and tell them to cut it out, or at least to allow users the option of shutting off the automated voice that wastes our time telling us how to do what we already know.

I'm behind it all the way. Are you?
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