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Qwest Hits Users With New 'Convenience Fees'
'Pay us so you can pay us,' insists telco.
by Karl Bode 10:50AM Thursday Feb 25 2010
Users in our Qwest forum note that the baby bell has started hitting users with a new, $1 "convenience fee," should they try to make a one-off payment of their bill at the Qwest website, or $4 should they try to pay their bill by phone. A Qwest FAQ entry doesn't really explain why users need to pay the fee, which Qwest notes you can avoid by mailing a check, signing up for Qwest's autopay service, or by using your banks electronic payment service. Qwest customers in our forums (including this user who works for a credit card company) aren't happy:
I work for a major credit card company. I'm quite familiar with merchant fees. As I pointed out in the original post, there are costs associated with every method of collecting payments. That's the cost of doing business. Besides that, for as large a business as Qwest is they can get a lower percentage transaction fee than the 1-1.5% quoted. Even if that wasn't true, $1 is still way over what they'd be charged for processing my transaction. I don't buy it for a second. It's just another attempt to add a below the line fee. The cell phone companies have been doing it and getting away with it, so why not a landline company?
The irony of someone from the credit card industry complaining about sneaky fees aside, it was actually traditional phone companies that perfected misleading below the line fees. Taking regular costs of business out of the total price then burying them below the line is a way for carriers to quietly jack up consumer prices -- while keeping the advertised price the same. Qwest isn't alone in making user pay them in order to pay them -- AT&T charges users $5 to pay your bill by phone. Verizon and Sprint are so far not charging users these fees -- but it seems likely that won't last long.

While the FCC seems endlessly transfixed by the idea of things like ETFs, we've yet to see them launch any kind of inquiry into transparent billing practices. Someday, it would be nice to see a telecom industry where the price you're advertised -- is the price you actually pay.

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