Students caught in middle of popular app's billing dispute with Verizon
Every day, students in South Elgin High School math teacher Allison Ozog's classes get a text message alerting them to what's in store for the next day or coming weeks.
"Each class gets at least one a day, but then I use it to send out reminders for everything about upcoming tests or even spirit days as well, so it can be maybe as much as 10 messages during the week," Ozog said of her reliance on Remind, a communications platform for smartphones that is popular with teachers, school administrators, students and parents.
But some of her students and parents may no longer have access to the messages due to a billing dispute between California-based Remind Inc. and telecom giant Verizon Wireless.
Remind officials sent out a notice to users Monday morning warning the company would no longer be sending text messages or SMS alerts to Verizon customers because the fee imposed by the carrier was going up 11 times the current charge.
"Remind pays a fee now that costs hundreds of thousands a year to be able to allow users to send messages without them incurring charges and Verizon wants to increase that to several million dollars a year," said Remind CEO Brian Grey. "That's why you're seeing so many educators get so frustrated over the actions Verizon has taken."
The tech company urged users to tweet Verizon about their need for the app as an educator, parent or student with the hashtag #ReverseTheFee. By midday Monday, the movement was trending on Twitter after thousands had tweeted the hashtag.
Teachers from several suburban school districts took up the cause. Grey said there are 97,000 regular users of the app in Illinois and 22,000 in Cook County alone.
An anatomy teacher from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire tweeted about how she uses the app frequently, including issuing mundane reminders for upcoming "lab days" when students should dress in long pants and "no open-toed shoes!"
St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Algonquin sent out a notice to all parents that Verizon customers would be affected.
Verizon spokesman Andy Choi said the increase to app companies like Remind pay for systemwide safety upgrades.
"We agree that schools and education-related institutions should not receive any fees for sending or receiving public service text messages," Choi said. "A small fee ... is intended to share costs incurred to help protect students, parents and teachers from spam and dangerous text messages over the Verizon network, while reducing fraud. The very small fee will be charged only to major text messaging aggregation companies such as Remind."
Choi said Remind sends 1.6 billion text messages a year to Verizon customers. He said Verizon was "working through plans with" companies like Remind "so they will not charge students, parents, educators or schools for this fee."
Remind officials said Verizon customers still could get notifications by downloading the app themselves instead of relying on teachers to input their students' phone numbers. Verizon customers also could have messages emailed to them through the Remind app, Grey said.