Verizon Surcharge Will Affect Other Education Companies—Not Just Remind


Verizon Surcharge Will Affect Other Education Companies—Not Just Remind

By Emily Tate Sullivan     Jan 17, 2019

Verizon Surcharge Will Affect Other Education Companies—Not Just Remind

A new fee Verizon plans to impose on its business customers has galvanized educators this week to rally around the school messaging service Remind—so much so that the telecoms company agreed to make an exception and waive the impending fee for Remind’s K-12 users.

But the surcharge, set to go into effect on Feb. 1, will be passed on to at least a dozen education companies—not just the one getting all the attention.

Here’s some background: Verizon has built a new platform in an effort to better protect its customers from spam and fraud. But to pay for it, the company is charging an additional fee to some of its business customers. One of those business customers is a third-party message delivery service called Twilio that works with other companies, including Remind, and will be passing Verizon’s new fee on to them.

At its face, it’s a small fee: an extra quarter of a penny ($0.0025) for every text message sent. But for a company like Remind, which sends more than a billion text messages every year through its school communication platform, the cost adds up fast.

Because the fee would’ve been crippling for Remind, Verizon has agreed to “swallow the costs”—as a Verizon spokesperson put it—for Remind’s K-12 users.

Other education companies that send SMS messages to users are getting slapped with the surcharge, too. But they’re not asking their users to launch a social media campaign against the mobile carrier. Why not? The key difference is that few, if any, send the same volume of texts that Remind does.

To put all of this in context: Remind is responsible for 1.6 billion, or nearly one-third, of the 4.5 billion text messages Twilio sends each year on the Verizon network, a Verizon official told the publication Ars Technica. And that’s accounting for Twilio’s non-education customers, which include Airbnb and Lyft.

Take ClassDojo, another widely-used classroom communication platform that works with Twilio. ClassDojo relies heavily—almost entirely—on its mobile app for communication, a spokesperson tells EdSurge. Many Remind users, meanwhile, prefer to send and receive SMS messages instead.

Because ClassDojo messages are sent via its app, the extra Verizon fees “won’t affect us dramatically,” the spokesperson, Lindsay McKinley, explains. “In fact, one of the reasons for ClassDojo being app-based is to ensure reliability, as well as longer messages and photos/videos. We do use Twilio for the invitation process to download the app—but after that, all messages, as well as photos, videos, etc., take place within the app itself.”

The number of invitation texts ClassDojo sends through Twilio is small enough, McKinley says, that Verizon’s fee hike will not hurt the company like it would have hurt Remind. “Some of our invitation-sending costs will go up, but ClassDojo’s reliability and service is not affected at all.”

One company that may feel the brunt more is Signal Vine, a two-way messaging platform for higher education that also uses Twilio. The company’s head of product, Charles Parsons, tells EdSurge he has been following the dispute between Verizon and Remind over the last few days. The issue affects Signal Vine, too, but it doesn’t deal the same blow, he explains.

Signal Vine doesn’t offer a free service like Remind and ClassDojo do—instead, its college and university customers pay a flat rate so their departments can send unlimited messages to students. Also unlike Remind, Signal Vine sends millions of text messages each year, not billions.

“We are in a different situation than Remind, obviously, because they have that free tier and we understand that’s incredibly valuable for teachers,” Parsons says. “It’s disappointing they nearly had to stop texting to Verizon customers because of it.”

Other third-party messaging services—Twilio’s competitors—are also getting hit with the Verizon fee and passing the costs on to their customers, Parsons says. He knows because Signal Vine uses all of them, including one called Bandwidth, and they’ve all notified his company of the expected changes.

Asked how much the new fees will hurt Signal Vine, Parsons said it depends. His company has been running the numbers with the assumption that, once Verizon institutes the fee, all other major carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, will do the same.

“When Verizon announced a surcharge, we took it as a sign all the carriers were going to follow very quickly. They tend to do that,” he explains. And if they do? “We expect it to increase our messaging costs two to three times.”

Several other education communication platforms, including Seesaw, TalkingPoints and Kinderlime, mention using Twilio’s services on their websites and are expected to incur the additional per-message Verizon fee on Feb. 1.


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