Today New York Times technology reporter David Pogue is launching a crusade against mandatory 15-second voicemail instructions. These messages are wholly useless — who doesn’t know by now to leave their message after the beep — and yet the phone companies make a fortune off of the airtime we spend listening to them. Pogue estimates that Verizon alone may be making as much as $620 million per year with these messages. He rightly calls it a scam and a nuisance, and goes on to list the PR contacts for each of the major carriers and urge his readers to mount a grassroots campaign to get rid of the mandatory voicemail instructions.
Good for him. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t, but in that case Pogue’s readers will at least know which services allow you to get rid of the message (iPhone owners don’t have to deal with it). Perhaps in time people will get fed up enough to start switching services, in which case the competing carriers will be forced to rethink the terrible mandatory messages.
It’s interesting that the first thing that occured to Pogue, and also to Mark Thoma, a liberal economist on whose blog I found the story, was not to write that the government should make a regulation preventing mandatory messages. It would be a simple enough regulation, after all.
Why are people like Mark Thoma comfortable letting the market take care of problems like mandatory voicemail instructions, but not things like confusing mortgages? What is the difference between cell phones and personal finance that consumers can take care of themselves on one but not the other?