Just As I Thought

It’s called Bait and Switch

Nextel has introduced it’s Nationwide Direct Connect feature. They’re charging a fee on top of a fee for it.
I already pay for a package that includes 250 Direct Connect minutes. But if I connect to someone outside my area, they’ll now charge me 10¢ a minute PLUS my plan minutes.
It’s annoying for two reasons: in this era of mobile telephones, almost everything is included in the plan price. But Nextel charges more on average than other companies and then charges extra fees for things like voice mail and caller ID, items that are included with all other cell phones. Second, I was assured when I got the phone a few months ago that all Nextel subscribers would be grandfathered in with national service when it launched, as part of their plan minutes. The customer service rep told me that when I ordered the service, and their website said it. That website has now been edited – wish I had printed out a copy.
Here’s an interesting quote from a story about the national service:

Drees, a company that builds homes in seven states, is looking forward to reducing costs and increasing employee productivity, says Karen Arens, office manager at the Fort Mitchell, Ky., construction company.

“From our bottom line, we will reduce costs by making fewer long-distance calls,” she says. Drees has 490 Nextel users, about half of whom use Direct Connect. “Lots of our employees cross state borders regularly, some several times a week,” Arens says.
Well, sounds like it makes sense, right? Except when you realize that Nextel doesn’t charge extra for long distance calls. Nor do most mobile phone carriers these days. So, option #1: make a free long distance call; or option #2: make a 10¢ per minute direct connect. How, exactly, do you suppose that saves money?
It goes on to say:

Nextel regularly posts lower customer churn rates than the other national wireless service providers because it is the only carrier with a walkie-talkie feature. But that likely will change before year-end. The nation’s largest wireless service providers, including AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, are expected to introduce competing services.

But Nextel has had the market cornered since introducing the feature in 1998, and it’s betting on customer loyalty and that users will prefer a mature service.
I think that customer loyalty will have little effect when other companies roll out the service without additional fees – and after number portability arrives in November.

Here’s another interesting article bringing up some of the questions I have about the ultimate viability and mass acceptance of Direct Connect as implemented by Nextel – if the paradigm of a walkie-talkie is so great, how come we all use cell phones instead? Maybe it’s to give our thumbs a rest.

I can see a benefit to using Direct Connect for short simple conversations (e.g., “Honey, I’m caught in traffic; be home in a half-hour”), but I wouldn’t want to talk long, especially in a car. Having to hold down that button to talk strikes me as a particular distraction. Besides, even outside a vehicle, holding and releasing the button repeatedly hurts after a while.

Direct Connect certainly works as advertised. But by my way of thinking, it’s still more suitable for use in business situations than with the family. And my wife who, um, is never wrong, agrees.

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