How Much Longer Will We Pay For Phone Calls?

Basically I have flat rate service and both at&t and I know it! It’s just neither of us is saying it aloud.

I spoke with my friend Peter Mokover earlier today. That’s him in the screengrab from our Skype call. Peter’s located just south of Atlantic City.

There was a time when we’d worry about the cost of this long distance call. Now, who cares?

Let me show my age for a second. When I was growing up prices for long distance calls varied depending on the time of day.

Daytime rates were outrageous. Evenings were cheaper. Late night, calls after 11:00 PM, were cheaper still.

Phone companies offered person-to-person and collect calls. They existed to shield you from paying dearly for calls that didn’t quite work out. Do those services even exist today (other than for calls made by prisoners)?

When I was growing up there was only one way to make a long distance call–AT&T. Starting in the late seventies new long distance companies like Sprint&#185 and MCI arrived. By dialing a code or later switching your provider entirely you could put your long distance bill on a diet.

Steadily year-by-year the cost of long distance calls have come down. For the last few decades people have been predicting the end of billing individual phone calls entirely. It’s not here officially, but for me and I suppose many of you it’s the practical reality.

I buy a cell package for my family. We share 1,400 minutes per month. On top of that all mobile-to-mobile calls are ‘free’ as are calls to my ten number “A-list.” Calls after 9:00 PM or on the weekend don’t count either.

Better than halfway through our current billing cycle we’ve used 194 of our 1,400 minutes. At the same time we’ve used nearly 1,800 minutes where the meter’s not running!

If it made sense I could cut my minutes even farther. With Google Voice’s “Click2Call” I can make outgoing calls which look like incoming calls from one of my “A-list” numbers. Practically speaking that means unlimited unmetered calls!

No wonder we have 6,002 rollover minutes available!

My cell provider at&t isn’t stupid. If I tried to cut my bucket of minutes below the allotted 1,400 I’d lose a bunch off those otherwise “free” call programs.

Basically I have flat rate service and both at&t and I know it! It’s just neither of us is saying it aloud.

The downward pressure on phone rates isn’t over yet. My call to Peter was made via Skype. It was free.

The video call was about as effortless as can be. If there’s lag I didn’t feel it. Beyond that Skype has figured out how to cancel the echoes and other disturbances that come when both Peter and I use microphones and speakers (as opposed to somewhat sound isolating handsets). And though I made the call on my desktop PC I’ve got Skype on my cell too!

Skype is good, but it’s not the end of this technology shift. There are and will be more methods of moving voice and video over IP networks instead of the switched long distance we’ve all been using. The one thing I’ll guarantee is none will have an incremental cost.

Sometime within the next few years we’ll start paying for a data bucket on our phones. Use that data any way you want; no more billing for calls. That would allow the telcos to get back in the business of making a little cash on individual phone calls.

We’re going to have to start thinking differently about how communications works and how we buy it. If you buy smart you’ll surely save.

&#185 – Sprint actually began as part of a railroad! Southern Pacific Railroad had excess microwave and later fiber capacity from the lines it ran along its right-of-way. That’s how they routed calls in competition with AT&T. Sprint actually stood for “Southern Pacific Railroad Intelligent Network of Telecommunications.”

Sprint Shoots Itself in The Foot In Unarmed Robbery

We feel good customer service can be profitable. We’ve already tried bad customer service and for sure that sh*t don’t work.

My friend Peter Sachs posted a story to Facebook about two Denver area Sprint employees working at the Sprint Store in a mall. First the story, then my totally made up response from Sprint’s president… the one he didn’t but should have made.

Shoemaker and Mike McGee, co-workers at a Sprint outlet at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, were heading on break when they heard a cry for help from an aging security guard as a shoplifting suspect blazed past them — and instead of ignoring this plea, they chased the guy down, caught him, and held him until mall security and police arrived.

Guess who got fired? Oh yeah! Catching crooks is against Sprint corporate policy. Maybe it should be if you’re in the store. This was different. They viscerally answered a call for help. Good for them. Good for us!

Shoemaker and McGee were called in to separate meetings, where they were told that their Sprint days were over. “They didn’t really tell us anything,” Shoemaker says. “They didn’t let us know where they were coming from. They just said, ‘We looked into it further, and you’re fired.’ They labeled it a form of misconduct.”

Here’s what the guy on the Sprint commercials should do now:

Hi, I’m Dan Hesse, president of Sprint. You’ve probably seen my commercials where I try to look less awkward than I actually am while simultaneously attempting to make Sprint seem warmer and fuzzier. I have spoken a lot about my commitment to improving your customer service experience with Sprint because we know that will keep you as a customer.

I guess you’ve read about our screw-up in Denver where we fired two certifiable heroes. Nice. We look like idiots. Even my own children are pissed at me for this one. It was bad enough when my daughter just wanted an iPhone!

Of course the Denver guys did break our employee rules. Obviously there is a disconnect here, because even we realize these guys are the “Sullys of cellphones!”

Here’s what we’re going to do… and by we I mean me. From now on Sprint’s policy is common sense first, rules second. This not only applies to these guys (who are rehired with back pay and all the bad replaced by good in their personnel files) but to all our CSOs. From now on they are empowered to make common sense decisions in situations where the rules are obviously boneheaded.

We’re not saying give away the store. They will still be accountable for their actions. At certain levels they might need a supervisor to sign off on what they’re doing. However, no one gets fired for doing the right thing or what they sincerely believe is the right thing. And if the supervisor is busy, they can make the decision on their own. We’ll deal with it later. You’ve got better things to do than hang on because we didn’t schedule enough people.

Doing right for our customers comes first.

Isn’t this what I meant by improving customer service? Is everyone below me still brain dead from previous management? Good customer service starts with actually treating our customers as individuals (after the voicemail tree and other depersonalizing treats we’re not ready to throw out).

Sure, it might cost us a few bucks in the short term, but as the real me has actually said our enemy is churn. So if we give up a few bucks to keep you for life we’re ahead of the game. No one should be surprised the point of all of this is to make money. We’re a business.

We feel good customer service can be profitable. We’ve already tried bad customer service and for sure that sh*t don’t work.


My personal opinion is Sprint will relent. This is too much bad publicity over a good Samaritan act. If Hesse would then read from my script–icing on the cake. Their cake!

Who’s Spying On You? Nearly Everyone!

Hey Verizon and Yahoo!, saying you’ll be ridiculed and publicly shamed isn’t going to make me less interested. It’s not something I want my government hiding behind either.

Here’s another one of those stories that’s smoldering in the geekosphere but ready to light up like a Roman candle. A Freedom of Information request was sent to the US Justice Department by an Indiana University grad student looking for some insight into what info our government gets from our Internet service providers.

Before the DOJ could answer the ISPs chimed in. They were not happy.

From Wired: “Verizon and Yahoo intervened and filed an objection on grounds that, among other things, they would be ridiculed and publicly shamed were their surveillance price sheets made public.”

Hey Verizon and Yahoo!, saying you’ll be ridiculed and publicly shamed isn’t going to make me less interested. It’s not something I want my government hiding behind either.

I am very uncomfortable if the people I entrust with my email or to provide my Internet access give away my secrets, often without a warrant. This is just plain wrong on a variety of levels.

And don’t think these are isolated incidents. You will be shocked by how often this happens!

From “slight paranoia“: “Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009.”

Like I said, this is smoldering now, but not for long.