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In this month's Scientific American column I drafted a "Cellular Bill of Rights." It documents all the ridiculous ways that cell phone carriers gouge, cheat and double-bill us.
One of the most egregious tactics—one that's bugged me for years—is the 15-second recording that the carrier makes us listen to when we're leaving a voice-mail message. Especially when you're in a hurry, having to sit through these idiotic instructions is deeply irritating. ("You may begin speaking at the tone. When you have finished recording, you may hang up.") It's also expensive; it's using up your airtime minutes and putting, all told, $1 billion a year into carriers' pockets.
Now, there is a "bypass" keystroke. The caller can press a specific key to skip over the inane instructions and jump right to the beep. In fact, it bypasses both the person's own recorded greeting and the carrier's 15-second recording.
But the carriers don't tell you about the existence of this keystroke. Furthermore, the key to press is different for each company. For Verizon, it's *; for AT&T and T-Mobile: #; for Sprint: 1. (At least in most parts of the country. The keystroke isn't even consistent within each carrier.)
See the problem? To bypass the message all the time, you'd always have to know which carrier the person you're calling uses—which is impossible.
The best way to strike back, therefore, is for you to announcethe keystroke to your own callers. Make it part of your greeting. ("Hi, this is David. Press star to leave a message right away.") If enough people do that, we'll gradually erode the voicemail-instruction cash cow for the carriers. And maybe, just maybe, we'll chalk up one item for the "Cellular Bill of Rights."