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David Pogue and his 'Take Back the Beep' campaign

David Pogue, who writes on tech for the New York Times had an interesting and thoughtful column yesterday. He's been complaining about the ridiculously long messages the cellular carriers stick on to the end of your voicemail message. He's right, too. But what I hadn't realized was that these incessant and long messages add to your air time and are bringing in millions of dollars of extra, and unearned revenue to the cellphone providers.

Here's a sample from the column of how, instead of a simple beep, the phone companies game the system to add to your minutes:

* 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."


It would be nice to be able to turn this stuff off, but it really isn't possible. There is one nice surprise in all this bad news. When Apple made the deal with AT&T, Apple insisted these messages not be on iPhone voice mail. When you call me you get MY message, and a beep. Just like that. No "dial 2 for the temperature in Des Moines" or "touch the pound key three times quickly, pause and one more click to get customer service if you are north of latitude 40 degrees." This is an example of something Apple and AT&T did that actually benefited iPhone owners, especially given all the latest circus with Skype, SlingPlayer, and Google.

Pogue has this exactly right. Cellphone users should complain to high heaven about these rather egregious violations of common sense and just plain smart customer relations. iPhone owners got off easy with voice mail. But we're bearing a heavy load as Apple and AT&T try to outdo each other in alienating their customers.

There oughta be a law.

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