'Take Back the Beep' Campaign [Telecom]

JULY 30, 2009, 12:27 PM

'Take Back the Beep' Campaign

Update | 11:17 p.m. AT&T's Mark Seigel has asked that complaint messages be sent to a different e-mail address, provided below.

Update | 7:50 p.m. Will England of Sprint says the company has now created a brand-new customer forum dedicated to this topic.

Update | 5:19 p.m. T-Mobile had deleted hundreds of complaints on this topic from its forum, and even blocked any new messages containing the word "beep." But it has now created a new forum just for complaints on this topic, linked below.

Over the past week, in The New York Times and on my blog, I've been ranting about one particularly blatant money-grab by American cellphone carriers: the mandatory 15-second voicemail instructions.

Suppose you call my cell to leave me a message. First you hear my own voice: "Hi, it's David Pogue. Leave a message, and I'll get back to you"-and THEN you hear a 15-second canned carrier message.

  • Sprint: "[Phone number] is not available right now. Please leave a detailed message after the tone. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press pound for more options."

  • Verizon: "At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press 1 for more options. To leave a callback number, press 5. (Beep)"

  • AT&T: "To page this person, press five now. At the tone, please record your message. When you are finished, you may hang up, or press one for more options."

  • T-Mobile: "Record your message after the tone. To send a numeric page, press five. When you are finished recording, hang up, or for delivery options, press pound."

(You hear a similar message when you call in to hear your own messages. "You. Have. 15. Messages. To listen to your messages, press


I, the voicemailbox owner, cannot turn off this additional greeting message. You, the caller, can bypass it, but only if you know the secret keypress-and it's different for each carrier. So you'd have to know which cellphone carrier I use, and that of every person you'll ever call; in other words, this trick is no solution.

[UPDATE: Apple iPhone owners don't hear these instructions--Apple insisted that AT&T remove them. And Sprint already DOES let you turn off the instructions message, although it's a buried, multi-step procedure, which you can read in the comments below.]

These messages are outrageous for two reasons. First, they waste your time. Good heavens: it's 2009. WE KNOW WHAT TO DO AT THE BEEP.

Do we really need to be told to hang up when we're finished!? Would anyone, ever, want to "send a numeric page?" Who still carries a pager, for heaven's sake? Or what about "leave a callback number?" We can SEE the callback number right on our phones!

Second, we're PAYING for these messages. These little 15-second waits add up-bigtime. If Verizon's 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year. That's your money. And your time: three hours of your time a year, just sitting there listening to the same message over and over again every year.

In 2007, I spoke at an international cellular conference in Italy. The big buzzword was ARPU-Average Revenue Per User. The seminars all had titles like, "Maximizing ARPU In a Digital Age." And yes, several attendees (cell executives) admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby maximizing ARPU.

Right now, the carriers continue to enjoy their billion-dollar scam only because we're not organized enough to do anything about it. But it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to sit there, waiting to leave your message, listening to a speech recorded by a third-grade teacher on Ambien.

Let's push back, and hard. We want those time-wasting, money-leaking messages eliminated, or at least made optional.


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***** Moderator's Note *****

Let's all do our part: just as soon as I find out what the "magic" keypress is, I'm modifying my voicemail message to say "This is Bill Horne, press to record, or wait for the useless message that puts on here to eat up your time."

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to
Monty Solomon
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Found them here:

Quick summary:

  • for Verizon

1 for Sprint

# for AT&T

# for T-Mobile

I had to scroll down past the article cited by Monty to find the URL to the bypass article.

***** Moderator's Note *****

I just tried using an Octothorpe to "Pound out" of the greeting on my Virgin Mobile phone, and it worked: since Virgin Mobile resells Sprint's network, I also tried the "1" mentioned above, and found that "1" _also_ worked. I suggest Virgin Mobile customers advise callers to press "1", since "pound sign" may be a Virgin Mobile option, and it's best to keep things simple.

BTW, Mr. Pogue published _two_ articles, the first about his campaign to eliminate unneeded announcements during voice mail greetings, and then a follow-up about the aftereffects of the first article.


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Reply to
Thad Floryan

I don't quite understand how the companies think they profit from this, unless they're in collusion with each other to help each other.

The pointless voicemail instructions don't generate revenue for the company hosting the voicemail; they generate revenue for the caller's company.

For example, I use my ATT phone to call a Verizon customer. I get his voice mail, and listen to the worthless instructions. I might have to pay ATT for the time I spend listening to them, but Verizon doesn't get a cent. So why would Verizon want to keep their equipment tied up playing instructions to rack up my charges on ATT?

It appears that the way a company could benefit from its own voice mail instructions are when the caller is also one of their customers. And, with the prevalence of free mobile-to-mobile plans for customers on the same network, they probably don't even benefit in this case.

So it would seem that the extended voice mail instructions don't benefit the company that has them; they only benefit other customers. Unless there is some kind of mutual back-scratching agreement, it seems that there is no financial incentive for the companies to keep doing this.

Reply to
Matt Simpson

My wife and I have two phones on a family plan in California.

Mine is an iPhone, so there is no carrier message taggeed to my greeting.

Her's is an old Motorola so tagged to her personal greeting is a very short "To page this person, press five now." Even that doesn't make sense, though, because there is no way to page her.

Reply to
Sam Spade

How so? I use an eight-year-old StarTAC and it's certainly possible to page me through it. (I don't have a text-messaging plan so these are fairly expensive, and since I can't respond I discourage people from doing so.)


Reply to
Garrett Wollman

One way for a sellular company to "page" a customer is by sending an SMS. That's what T-Mo does when I leave a paging call-back number after getting diverted to T-Mo's voicemail.

Cheers, -- tlvp

Reply to



Here in the UK with present interconnect rules, they most certainly do benefit, and not just mobile/cellular operators.

When a call passes between two operators, the receiving one gets paid something. This is a big problem if it's a mobile network. The receiving customer is never charged airtime. Effectively, the caller pays this in the rate charged by their provider for the call. Their provider has to cover that cost and there is no effective competition since the caller isn't the mobile network's customer. (Avoiding this situation is a huge advantage of the US approach of charging airtime.) If the call goes to voice mail, the caller is being charged effective airtime for a call that isn't touching the airwaves and the amount can be bumped up by making the messages go on forever...

Needless to say, the person called often pays again when they call to pick up the voicemail.

Even with landlines, BT has a nice scam going with their "free" voicemail system. The caller gets charged when it answers and this happens instantly if the called line is busy. If the caller is also using BT and doesn't have their inclusive call package, there goes about 12 pence / 20 cents. Keep calling in the hope that the line is now free and it gets expensive very quickly. I'm so glad I ditched BT for outgoing calls - my cost per call is at most 10% of theirs now.

We have another unbelievable ripoff. If you take your phone to the continent and switch it on so it registers on a network there, all calls to it get forwarded at a high per-minute charge. Apparently if you don't answer or have switched off the phone, the foreign network forwards the calls back to voice mail in the UK and that is charged on top at an even higher rate. The only protection is to call your network to switch off voicemail before leaving the country.

Reply to
Steve Hayes

We have text messaging blocked on our account. ;-)

Reply to
Sam Spade

On Tue, 04 Aug 2009 08:03:25 -0400, Steve Hayes wrote: ..........

In Australia - when international GSM roaming finally got going properly - you could take your phone to somewhere like New Zealand and you could receive calls on your Aust. number via whatever network had the roaming agreement. The caller would still pay the usual rate calling a mobile in Australia, but you would pay the extra international call cost for connected calls (which wasn't cheap).

The way around the big costs was to set the phone to divert "All calls" (not just "No Answer" and/or "Busy") to voicemail (which cost you nothing), which would then send you an SMS (zero cost again) to check the message, which you could do in the most cost-effective method at your disposal. I believe that this is still how it works (but I could be wrong).

Reply to
David Clayton

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