Verizon to add $2 bill-pay charge

Fri Dec 30, 2011 3:08pm EST

An iPhone 4 and accessories sit on a counter in a Verizon Wireless store shortly after the phone went on sale with Verizon service in New York, February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar

An iPhone 4 and accessories sit on a counter in a Verizon Wireless store shortly after the phone went on sale with Verizon service in New York, February 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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(Reuters) - Verizon Wireless, which this month angered customers with three separate data service problems, said on Thursday it will add a $2 fee for one-time telephone and online bill payments.

The planned change, to take effect on January 15, was greeted by a storm of criticism.

Consumer blog Engadget said charging customers to pay was "downright ludicrous." Another tech website, cnet.com, said the move "made little sense."

"The fee is designed to address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make one-time bill payments in alternate payment channels (online, mobile, telephone) and who choose not to use the other options available to them ...," Verizon Wireless spokesman Thomas Pica said in an email.

AT&T Inc said it does not charge fees to customers who pay online or who use its automated phone payment system. But AT&T does levy a $5 charge on people who ask for personal assistance to pay their bills, unless they need assistance due to a technical problem or billing error. Most subscribers of Sprint also do not pay fees, though it does require some customers with bad credit to pay a $5 fee per payment.

In addition, some customers complained on Verizon's online forum on Thursday about problems activating their new phones.

The episode followed reports of a problem with the company's high-speed network on Wednesday. Verizon said on Thursday that it had resolved that issue overnight.

"GROWING PAINS" WITH 4G NETWORK

Verizon, the biggest U.S. mobile service provider, admitted on Thursday it was having "growing pains" with its new fourth generation, 4G, high-speed wireless network and had suffered several separate technical problems that caused service outages.

After saying earlier in the day that services on its older third generation, 3G, network were not affected, the company admitted Thursday night that 3G customers were also affected.

Verizon said it had proactively "moved" its fourth-generation (4G) wireless users onto its third-generation (3G) network to ensure all would have a data connection.

However, Verizon admitted that for brief periods, such as on Wednesday, 4G customers could not connect to the 3G Network as quickly as the company would have liked.

The company also said that it is working closely with its network suppliers to ensure smooth functioning of its 4G network, while estimating that connectivity has been available at about 99 percent of the time this year.

Verizon Wireless statement is available at:

r.reuters.com/wav75s

Some customers had earlier complained that they were having 3G service problems, while others said their 4G service was being restored on Thursday morning. One person complained about the lack of a public announcement.

"At least acknowledge there is a problem, do you really expect your paying customers to not notice??" one person wrote on Verizon's online message board.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Thomas Pica told Reuters that the company does not plan to compensate its customers who had experienced service problems.

Earlier this month the company, which has long boasted that its service is "most reliable," faced two data service problems.

On December 8 some Verizon customers were unable to access the Internet on their wireless devices for about 24 hours. The company had to fix another problem on December 21.

Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew and Sakthi Prasad; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Steve Orlofsky and Ed Lane)

(This story corrects the 5th paragraph after AT&T and Sprint revise comments on bill pay charges. Sprint and AT&T both said they charge fees in some cases)

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