A free texting service used by teachers, students, and parents may stop working on the Verizon Wireless network because of a dispute over texting fees that Verizon demanded from the company that operates the service. As a result, teachers that use the service have been expressing their displeasure with Verizon.
Remind—the company that offers the classroom communication service—criticized Verizon for charging the new fee.
Remind said its service’s text message notifications will stop working on the Verizon network on January 28 unless Verizon changes course. (Notifications sent via email or via Remind’s mobile apps will continue to work.)
The controversy cropped up shortly after a Federal Communications Commission decision that allowed US carriers’ text-messaging services to remain largely unregulated.
“To offer our text-messaging service free of charge, Remind has always paid for each text that users receive or send,” Remind said in a notice to users. “Now, Verizon is charging Remind an additional fee intended for companies that send spam over its network.”
Verizon says the fee must be charged to fund spam-blocking services.
“Your Remind messages aren’t spam, but that hasn’t helped resolve the issue with Verizon,” Remind’s statement continued. “The fee will increase our cost of supporting text messaging to at least 11 times our current cost—forcing us to end free Remind text messaging for the more than 7 million students, parents, and educators who have Verizon Wireless as their carrier.”
Remind offers both free and paid plans. The free texting plan that would no longer work on Verizon’s network is meant for individual classrooms and includes basic messaging to parents and students, attachments, and translation. Youth-sports coaches also use Remind.
Schools and districts are encouraged to pay for a more extensive Remind service that includes logging, management controls, and district-wide messaging, among other things. Remind said that only the free texting service will stop working on the Verizon network and that most of its 30 million users use the free plan.
Remind’s costs for sending messages to Verizon customers will increase from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars per year after the change, Remind CEO Brian Grey told Ars today.
Remind will absorb the new cost for its premium users, Grey said. Remind asked Verizon to drop the fee for texts sent through Remind’s free service and charge it only for texts sent through Remind’s paid service, Grey told Ars. “We offered that to Verizon at end of last year, and they rejected that proposal,” he said. “We’ve subsequently continued to reach out to them,” but Verizon has stood firm on the fee.
Remind sends 1.6 billion text messages a year on the Verizon Wireless network, Verizon told Ars. Remind sends these messages through Twilio, a bulk texting service used by many businesses, Verizon said. Twilio sends more than 4.5 billion texts a year on the Verizon network, Verizon said.
Technically, Verizon is charging the new fee to Twilio and Twilio is passing it on to Remind, Grey said. Remind has been paying Twilio to deliver text messages since 2011, he said.
Remind said that similar fees are being charged by Canadian carriers Rogers and Bell but not by any US carriers other than Verizon.
Grey said that more than half of Remind’s users rely on text-messaging notifications, even though the service also works with email and the mobile app. Text notifications are especially important for Remind users who have mobile phones but not smartphones or who lack home Internet access, he said.
Remind urged its users to complain to Verizon, and the carrier has been receiving numerous tweets from angry Remind users. “Ridiculous that @verizon is charging @RemindHQ a ‘spam’ fee for their free messaging service,” a high-school science teacher from Illinois wrote.
“My communication with my students is NOT spam!” a teacher in Maryland wrote. “This is a valuable resource that needs to be preserved for the betterment of education.”
Grey said Remind is used for “anything and everything” related to schools, including messages related to homework assignments, field trips, bus delays, and school closures.
Verizon says fee pays for spam blocking
Verizon, which touts its commitment to education, defended the new fee. Such fees are “intended to share costs incurred to help protect students, parents, and teachers from spam and dangerous text messages over the Verizon network, while reducing fraud,” Verizon said in a statement to Ars.
Verizon said the “very small fee will be charged only to major text-messaging aggregation companies such as Remind and Twilio–and not schools, parents, or students.” The fees “pay for the work required to contain spam and fraud associated with this service,” Verizon said.
Verizon noted that the fees aren’t charged directly to students, parents, or schools. The company said that “If anybody claims you need to pay a text message fee to Verizon, they’re not telling the truth.”
But Remind didn’t claim that its users have to pay a new text message fee to Verizon. As we noted earlier, Remind said that it has to stop its free texting service on Verizon because of the new fee that Remind must pay.
Verizon’s statement seems to indicate the companies are still negotiating. “We’re now working through plans with Twilio and Remind so that they will not charge students, parents, educators, or schools for this fee,” Verizon said.
Gray said that he’s still hopeful that Verizon will reverse the fee before Remind has to cut off free texts to Verizon customers. But so far, Remind’s requests to drop the fee, at least for free users, seems to have “fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
We asked Twilio if the new Verizon fee is affecting other Twilio customers and will update this story if we get a response.
Verizon has been charging similar fees since at least 2008, when it introduced 3-cent fees for each message delivered to its customers, on top of the fees that Verizon’s customers pay for their text messaging service.
Verizon’s mobile phone plans generally come with unlimited texting. That means that customers pay Verizon to receive texts from all legitimate senders, including Remind.
But there’s little if any government regulation that would stop Verizon from charging additional fees to text-message senders. The now-repealed net neutrality rules applied to broadband services but not to texting.
The FCC last month voted to classify text messaging as an information service and not a telecommunications service. This means that the FCC decided that text messaging should be largely unregulated, just like broadband.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said this change was necessary to make sure cellular carriers have legal authorization to block spam and robotexts. But consumer advocates who criticized Pai’s decision noted that carriers were already allowed to block spam and robotexts, and they also predicted that the change would help carriers block legal messages in order to extract more revenue from senders.