I couldn’t find any comment from the Republican presidential candidates on one of the most compelling financial events of the last week: Verizon’s virtually instant reversal of its $2 fee on people who pay their wireless bills over the phone or online.
Nor apparently did the White House have anything to say, even though the Federal Communication Commission’s announcement that it was “concerned” about the fee no doubt factored into Verizon’s decision. The FCC, once the cell phone industry’s best friend in Washington, D.C., has morphed into something actually looking like a consumer protection agency under Obama. It also killed the AT&T – T-Mobil merger that would have destroyed competition in the wireless marketplace and led to vastly higher prices and much worse service. The President certainly deserves a victory lap – and could use one – but remained incommunicado during his vacation in Hawaii.
Nothing from the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street either.
Fees have become the bane of the American consumer. Airlines make more money from fees than from air fares. Banks replaced tellers with machines and now force their customers to pay $3-$5 for the privilege of accessing their own money. Hotels apply “resort fees” for using the typically impoverished gym. And then there is the coup de grace: the fee you have to pay for getting a bill in the mail – a favorite of the cell phone and health insurance companies.
Undisclosed, or at best hidden in the fine print, these fees cripple consumers’ ability to compare prices. Which becomes a nightmare if you realize you are paying too much and decide to take your business elsewhere: many of these companies require you to stay with them for two years or pay an early termination fee in the hundreds of dollars.
Verizon’s retreat from the fee was a major victory for consumers, who organized a massive internet/Twitter/Facebook protest worthy of Zuccotti Park or Tahrir Square. In November, Bank of America tried to institute a $5 fee for using a debit card – it too was forced to back down in the face of national outrage.
How then to explain the silence of political candidates and public officials? The simple answer harkens back to the Occupy metaphor. The political class doesn’t sweat the small stuff like a $2 fee – they can afford not to. But most Americans can’t afford to throw away two bucks.