4 Reasons Verizon’s $2 ‘Convenience’ Fee Is Harsh, Unfriendly and Wrongheaded

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Brian Snyder / Reuters

It sounds like Verizon’s looking to ring in 2012 with a bill-pay fee for anyone who doesn’t switch to automatic bill payments, electronic checks, or some other form of payment that doesn’t involve single bill paying. If you like to pay your bill when you want to pay it, using a credit card online or over the phone, you’ll have to cough up an additional $2 per transaction after January 15. Verizon’s calling this a “convenience fee,” implying that customers who don’t do what they want are now officially “inconvenient.” Customer reaction to the fee: Outrage, what else?

According to Verizon, the fee’s designed to “help allow us to continue to support these single bill payment options in these channels and is designed to address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make single bill payments in alternate payment channels (online, mobile, telephone).”

(MORE: After AT&T-T-Mobile, Are Verizon’s Cable Spectrum Deals on the Chopping Block?)

Here’s how to waive the fee (read carefully — some sites are underreporting these, and it’s important you understand all your options here): Pay by electronic check, enroll in Verizon’s automatic payment service, pay at a Verizon kiosk, use a Verizon gift card or snail mail a paper check or money order.

What’s so bad about any of those? Speaking as a Verizon customer myself, it’s been a long time since I didn’t use auto-bill-pay, but I can think of a few reasons some might feel put out.

It’s a carrot-stick tactic. And in this case, almost all stick. Right or wrong, no one likes being forced to switch rails (look at the Netflix debacle). Customers are going to grouse about this because it’s punitive: “Stop doing what we used to let you do and do this other thing, or else.” Other companies have worked to accomplish as much by offering friendlier incentives like gift cards or usage credits. Verizon’s not even trying to soften the blow here.

It puts the onus on customers if Verizon screws up. If Verizon accidentally overcharges (because that neverhappens, right?) and you’re signed up for auto-pay, you’ll automatically pay the overcharge, and have to sort it out post facto. I realize mistakes like this are rare, but some people prefer to have absolute control of their money (to say nothing of the small yet very real security risk we take when we permanently open valves to companies that store information about our financial accounts in order to facilitate these automatic transactions — if anyone doubts the risks involved here, do an Internet search on ‘Anonymous’).

Does it really cost Verizon $2 per transaction? The only way to know for sure if for Verizon to open its books, something it’ll never do, so all we can do is speculate, but $2 sounds high.

There are better ways to get results. Why not punish folks who actually screw up by imposing harsher late fees or other penalties, instead of going after everyone, including legitimate users who always pay on time and just want finer control over their financial transactions?

If you want to protest, there’s an online petition here, or you could go for the nuclear option and cancel your contract outright.

MORE: Verizon Confirms Mysterious Data Outages Nationwide, Already Restoring Service

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham, Google+ or Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.