It’s time to Uber and Airbnb the telecommunications industry

Verizon, can you hear me now?

I am sounding a call to arms to shake up, break up and decentralize your old industry. I’m not alone. I’m joined by hordes of telecom geeks decentralizing giants like you, AT&T and Vodafone.

Your old ways aren’t fit for modern life. Your semi-monopolies should disintegrate like dandelions in a summer wind. From your wreckage, something prettier will grow.

Who’s with me? Ready to compost telecoms?

Wireless and internet services are too important to be done this badly. We live and die by our devices. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs now includes Wi-Fi. When I’m out of cell range, I can feel my social connections fray. My most crucial daily vitamins are C, B12 and 5G.

And yet we’ve all been burned too many times by our monthly Verizon bills. Telecoms have been hosing me and my clients for decades. Job No. 1 for them wasn’t to solve their customers’ problems, it was raking in as much money as they could. I have never seen a telecom undercharge on a bill.

How is that possible? If you’re trying to accurately price your services, you’d think you’d accidentally overcharge sometimes and undercharge other times. Happens in restaurants all the time. Yet with telecoms, the mistakes always go their way. I love when companies reduce my bill; Slack lowers the bill for users that haven’t logged in for a month. So cool.

Most folks don’t know enough to fight telecom overcharges. It’s impossible to audit bills without buying specialized services. What a perverse incentive. I saved my companies billions by pointing out overcharges on our information technology contracts and telecom and hosting bills.

Telcos are extractive capitalism at its worst. It’s no wonder folks distrust telecoms, and are searching for exit routes. Telcos are as popular as poison ivy.

Net promoter scores are a standard way of measuring customer satisfaction, by ignoring the lukewarm customers and subtracting the percentage that are detractors — that is, unhappy — from those that are promoters — that is, delighted. A score of 100 is magnificent; -100 is catastrophic.

Four of the five lowest net promoter scores by industry according to Qualtrics are wireless carriers, utilities, internet service providers, and TV service providers, the components of the one-stop shopping that makes up today’s telco or cable company. According to NICE Satmetrix, the two lowest are cable/satellite TV, with an average NPS of 1, and internet service, with an average NPS of -1. This compares to department/specialty stores at 62 and tablet computers at 56!

Aren’t telecoms ashamed of themselves for how they operate? For how much of the world distrusts them? If telecoms were people, they might get dates because they’re rich, but you wouldn’t invite them to Thanksgiving.

Part of the reason for low net promoter scores is the squeeze between two desires: on the one hand, customers’ desires for unlimited bandwidth and low rates, and on the other hand, service providers’ finite network capacity and immense capital investments. However, every industry must balance the needs of demanding customers with those of stakeholders. This doesn’t explain the horrifically low customer satisfaction scores.

If telcos want to win back some of our favor, I suggest they try to elevate the way their business does business. Instead of simply trying to make the most money possible, telcos could:

  1. Make communications more accessible.

  2. Aim for positive social impact.

  3. Use their excess bandwidth to do good.

  4. Give a percentage of profits to local communities.

  5. Make their billing transparent.

Things are changing. As telecoms scooped cash out of our bank accounts, they used to be able to ignore us and abuse us. After all, they were the only game in town, the only popsicle stand in the desert. What were we gonna do? Hang tin cans from trees and build our own telecommunications network?

Finally, we can.

Market forces mean telcos can’t rely on monopoly any longer to maintain their margin. The monopoly power of big telecom is changing quickly. Telecom is getting fragmented and decentralized.

New players are coming up quickly to take telecoms apart. We are building our own networks. As one player in decentralized telecoms told Forbes, “What if someone could stick a box in their window, turn it on, and become their own cell tower all of a sudden? I hope this has started a movement towards people realizing you can do this in an open-source way without a big telco carrier.”

It’s beyond time. Who else wants to join the cause?

Tony Greenberg is chief executive of RampRate, an advisory firm that optimizes supplier relationships for more than 100 top brands such as Microsoft, eBay, Nike and Hearst. He is currently an adviser in or investor to startups in motion capture, virtual and augmented reality, networking, blockchain technologies and several social impact and wellness-related ventures. He wrote this commentary for SiliconANGLE.

Image: Mehadi Hasan/Pixabay

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