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Verizon retreats on ‘convenience fee’ for online bill payment

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Verizon Wireless has dropped plans to institute a $2 convenience fee for subscribers who pay their bills online or via phone calls.

Yesterday the company quietly announced the fee would be started on 15 January, and it said was “designed to address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make single bill payments in alternate payment channels (online, mobile, telephone),” the company said in a statement.

Quite what’s so expensive about online and telephone payment these days had more than a few people confused - including El Reg, who received no satisfactory explanation from Verizon's press representative. To make matters more confusing the charge was waived for a variety of other payment options.

For example, those people still paying by posting in physical checks requiring sorting were not expensive enough to warrant the charge, nor too were people paying by visiting kiosks in Verizon’s retail stores, or using the company’s own payment system My Verizon Online. Calling it a convenience fee sounded a tad insulting too.

Social media sites lit up with the news, with Verizon Wireless trending near the top of US twitter rankings. An online petition was started, collecting thousands of signatures, and forums debated the best way to get back at the company, ranging from simply leaving to finding the most expensive remaining payment option and using that. Within barely a day, the company caved.

“At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers. Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time,” said Dan Mead, president and chief executive officer of Verizon Wireless in a statement.

The speed of the retreat indicated the growing power of social media, and the online world, to marshal consumer opinion. The news, put out in the traditional quiet period during the holidays, might have slipped by unnoticed and failed to muster support. Such traditional strategies are unlikely to work in the face of a more informed populace.

Bank of America is still smarting from its plans for a $5 service charge for deposit accounts sparked outrage and online campaigns. Marketing experts believe the cost to the company’s brand has been severe, and the customers switched to alternative banks and credit unions in droves. ®

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