'Pay us so you can pay us,' insists telco.
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.