T-Mobile rumored to impose SMS toll on businesses

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We'll see if this actually happens -- and I'm not convinced it will, for reasons I'll get into below -- but according to an article in GigaOM, carrier T-Mobile USA intends to implement a toll on businesses of up to one cent per text message sent to their customers. The "Twitter tax" is slated to begin on Oct. 1, writes GigaOM's Colin Gibbs.

This text-charging gambit was tried a couple of years ago by Verizon Wireless, and it was a smashing failure. As Gibbs points out, Verizon's bid to collect three cents per SMS sent ran into fierce opposition from text companies, resulting in widespread media coverage and subsequent furious backpedaling by Verizon, which first claimed its plan actually was a "proposal" and later said it was merely a "practical joke." (OK, I made up that last part.)

Assuming T-Mobile intends to give the text toll a go, one could assume their take-away from the Verizon debacle was that the company was planning to charge too much. Perhaps T-Mobile figures that a toll of one-quarter cent would be relatively painless and therefore acceptable to businesses, if grudgingly so.

There are two problems with this line of thinking. One is that it's awfully hard to persuade a business (or consumer) to pay for something it has been getting for free. The second is that it's really hard to persuade anyone to pay for something they can get elsewhere for free.

Which businesses can -- at least for now. That, of course, could change if all the other carriers decided to monetize the fast-growing trend of business-to-consumer texting, which some see as a marketing goldmine. A single major holdout, though, could make that scenario virtually impossible. But, hey, that's why they invented collusion.

One thing you can be sure of is that T-Mobile isn't going to risk losing customers by blazing a text-toll trail. The other thing you can be sure of is that somewhere in the offices of carriers around the world, shrewd executives are trying to figure out how to get consumers to pay for the texts they get from businesses. Because that's the way of the world.

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