How do you get a major telecom company to respond to your customer service complaint? You take to Twitter.
That’s what hundreds of educators did this week when Remind, a messaging app for schools, announced on Monday that it would no longer be able to offer texting on its free plan for any customers using Verizon networks, because the phone carrier planned to charge an additional fee for those messages.
Remind, launched in 2011, offers communication services for schools. Teachers, administrators, and other educators use the app to send notices about assignments, push out last-minute updates about trips or sports games, and provide timely information about school closures and other emergency events. A free service for individual classrooms is available, while schools and districts can pay for an institution-wide plan that includes more features. The company says its app is used in more than 80 percent of U.S. schools and by 60 percent of U.S. teachers.
Users can opt to receive notifications in-app, via email, or through text messages. If parents choose to get text messages, the company will send them texts when their students’ teachers post notifications or messages in the app. This app-to-text feature allows parents and students to use the service, even if they don’t have a smartphone or reliable internet access.
On Monday, Remind encouraged its users to call out Verizon on Twitter with the hashtag #ReverseTheFee. Teachers, school districts, parent-teacher associations, and after-school clubs bombarded the telecom company on social media, explaining why the texting service was an indispensable tool in their work and urging Verizon to rethink the change.
It seemed like the companies might have come to a resolution. Verizon said it offered Remind a deal that would allow the company to keep sending text messages to K-12 institutions and families with no fee charged.
But Remind says that it still hasn’t received an agreement in writing from the phone carrier. As of now, Remind has said its free texting service will still end on Jan. 28.
Here’s the controversy, explained:
1. What is this fee, and how would it affect Remind?
Starting in February of this year, Verizon will be charging companies a fee for every app-to-text message they send to the phone carrier’s customers.
While companies like Remind send these mass communications for legitimate purposes, it’s also possible to use app-to-text to easily send mass spam messages. To continue allowing companies to send these legitimate messages, the carrier says that it needs to provide protections for its customers against unwanted spam. To pay for these defense systems, Verizon is charging these companies extra to use app-to-text. This includes Twilio, a communications platform that Remind uses to deliver its texts.
Remind had said that these fees will increase the cost per text by 11 times, making it impossible for the company to offer the SMS service to Verizon customers in its free plan. Instead of paying several hundred thousand dollars a year to provide this service, Remind would have to pay several million, said Brian Grey, the company’s CEO, in an interview.
As a result, Remind announced on Monday that it would stop providing text notifications for Verizon customers who use the free service on Monday, Jan. 28. Remind estimates that 7 million of its users will be affected.
2. But Verizon offered to reverse the fee—isn’t the problem solved?
Verizon says that Remind can get rid of the fee for educators, students, and families by accepting the company’s offer.
“As discussed this week with Remind, Verizon will not charge Remind fees as long as they don’t begin charging K-12 schools, educators, parents, and students using its free text message service,” reads a statement from the carrier.
“Despite this offer, made Tuesday, Remind has not changed its position that it will stop sending free texts to Verizon customers who use the service regarding school closures, classroom activities and other critical information,” the statement continues.
Remind is using educators and families “as pawns,” said Richard J. Young, a director of corporate communications at Verizon. “They’re trying to unfairly create hysteria in the education ecosystem and it’s absolutely pathetic. They should be embarrassed.”
But Remind says that Verizon hasn’t offered the company an agreement in writing. “While Verizon has been focused on public relations, they have not yet put a signed agreement into place that will protect our service on an ongoing basis,” wrote Grey, in a statement released Thursday.
“The announcement is a positive first step—now we need an official agreement to ensure that our service can continue uninterrupted on their network.”
Grey also noted that not all of Remind’s users are affiliated with K-12 organizations, and as such wouldn’t be covered by Verizon’s offer.
“Many of you may also be part of the large and growing base of students, parents, and educators who rely on Remind every day in organizations like preschools, daycares, colleges, churches, and youth organizations across the country,” he wrote. “Based on Verizon’s proposal, these wouldn’t necessarily count as ‘K-12 organizations.’ ”
3. Can teachers, parents, and students still use Remind if they can’t text through the platform?
Yes. Remind users can opt to receive notifications through the app on their phone or via email. These services will still be available—and free—after Jan. 28. (Teachers who are Verizon customers and want to switch their Remind settings to receive in-app messages or emails can do so here.)
But these options may not be feasible for families who don’t have smartphones or a reliable internet connection, said Grey. “The SMS and text version of Remind has become the lifeline for them to stay connected to their school communities,” he said.
Several teachers specifically brought up these concerns on Twitter, noting that the text version of Remind was a more reliable way to communicate with parents and students:
.@verizon teachers need a safe communication tool for parents and students. @remind101 is that platform. Not everyone has internet at home so relying solely on the app isn’t feasible. You just got a $4 BILLION tax break. #ReverseTheFee and do the right thing. Please RT
— Rachel Murat (@MrsMurat) January 17, 2019
— Marlee Christianson (@MarleeC1123) January 17, 2019
I work in a Title I school. Most of my parents can’t afford smart phones to download the app. Many of my hispanic parents can’t send texts but can receive them. We live in a rural area. Internet is not always accessible/affordable! This is awful! #ReverseTheFee @verizon
— NC Julbo (@ncjulbo) January 14, 2019
Update, Jan. 25: The two companies have come to a solution over the fee. On Thursday, Verizon announced that it would not charge Remind additional fees for any text messages sent over its platform. Remind reported on Friday that there would be no service disruption for Verizon customers and that free texting would continue as normal.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.