Author: Emily Tate
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Can you hear me now? That’s what Remind and many of its users hope to get across as they protest Verizon’s new fees, which threaten to disrupt use of the messaging service millions of students and educators depend on.
Thousands of teachers have taken to Twitter this week to blast the telecommunications company and defend Remind, a school communication platform used for everything from announcing homework assignments to contacting parents when a student is sick.
One by one, educators using the hashtag #ReverseTheFee have described how Remind has become an integral part of their classroom culture—and how, without it, they’d lose a critical tool for reaching students and parents.
Founded in 2011, Remind now claims 31 million monthly active users, 30 million of whom reside in the U.S. and the other 1 million in Canada, CEO Brian Grey tells EdSurge. Of its U.S. users, 7 million are Verizon customers.
Messages on Remind can be sent through the company’s mobile app or directly to users’ phones as SMS messages. In the latter case, the company pays a small fee for each text sent. But as of Feb. 1, Verizon will enforce an additional fee on each message that is sent using Remind. According to Grey, it will cost Remind 11 times more per text message than it currently pays.
Up to this point, Remind has absorbed the fees that carriers like Verizon charge for text messages. It’s the San Francisco-based company’s way of fulfilling its commitment to keep a core part of the product free for schools, educators, students and parents, Grey explains.
With these new fees, however, shouldering the cost will be out of the question. “Given the large number of Verizon users that use our free service, we will not be able to sustain that financially,” he says.
As a result, in a couple of weeks, Verizon’s Remind users will no longer be able to receive text messages. That means teachers won’t be able to send homework assignments to students, alert parents that Picture Day is tomorrow or shout out good behavior in class. It means that administrators won’t be able to tell teachers that school is canceled the next day due to snow or incentivize student attendance with a surprise Pajama Day.
“I was devastated when I saw the news,” says Christie Knighton, an instructor at Highline College in Des Moines, Wash. “This program is so critical. If my students are working at home and they have a question, they can text me. It’s an amazing tool for students in particular.”
Other educators expressed similar distress.
“I honestly don’t have a backup plan. I don’t know what else to do,” says Claire Peterson, a 6th-grade English language arts teacher in San Antonio, Texas, who has been using Remind with her classes on a weekly basis for the last four years. The tool allows her to send reminders about upcoming projects, announce new test reviews or contact a parent directly without having to disclose her personal phone number. “It’s a great way to communicate right away,” she says.
Remind informed its users on Monday about the upcoming changes and asked that they spring into action. The company encouraged users to take up the issue on Twitter, using callouts like #ReverseTheFee and #NotSpam.
The latter hashtag is in play, Grey says, because Verizon is justifying these new fees as part of a larger effort to control spam. The problem, say Grey and several teachers EdSurge interviewed, is that they’re targeting the wrong company.
“I kind of like that philosophy—charging more for spam—but Remind is not spam,” Knighton says. “This is an educational tool that so far has been free to users.”
If enough educators express full-throated support for Remind and the educational purpose its platform serves, Grey hopes Verizon will walk back the new fee. “We’re asking and hoping they can exempt or keep our traffic out of [their spam-control efforts], because Remind is obviously not spam,” Grey says. “That’s part of what is maybe being confused by Verizon here.”
When reached by EdSurge, representatives at Verizon declined to comment. However, in a statement provided to the publication Ars Technica, Verizon explained that it is charging the new fee to Twilio, a bulk texting service used by many companies to send SMS messages, and Twilio is passing that fee on to Remind. Verizon added that Remind sends upwards of 1.6 billion texts each year on its network.
The quick math suggests that the additional fees, which according to Twilio will bring the price per SMS message to $0.0025, would increase Remind’s messaging fees from about $360,000 per year to as much as $4 million.
Verizon is not the only telecoms company that is levying spam fees for Remind. In late 2018, Grey received word from two Canadian carriers, Rogers and Bell, that they would soon begin charging a higher fee—about 25 times higher, Grey says—for its users to receive Remind messages. The company planned to take on the increased cost for as long as it could. But shortly after learning about Verizon’s fee hikes, Grey had reached a tipping point and decided that it was no longer sustainable to pay them. The company will stop service for Roger and Bell on Jan. 28.
“The massive amount of costs we’d be incurring with Verizon really forced our hand and made us have to make some hard decisions,” Grey says.
Workarounds That Don’t Work for Everyone
To prepare its Verizon users for the possible service interruption, Remind has offered several alternatives. Users can download the Remind mobile app and either turn push notifications on for their smartphones or elect to have messages sent to their emails. Another option is for schools affected by the new fees to upgrade to the paid plan Remind offers, since the company will be absorbing the increased Verizon fees for its premium users.
Educators say that while these workarounds will be a fine solution for some people, it won’t be enough to help many of their students.
“There are a lot of hiccups with that,” Peterson says. In the past, she’s tried getting her students to download apps and found that many of them can’t because they use prepaid phones or have limited storage.
Knighton, meanwhile, teaches a lot of adult learners, many of whom are not “tech-savvy,” she says. “I would say at least half my students just do the text messaging. For them to even download an app, that’s an extra step” they may not take.
Remind’s Grey agrees. “Those are some workarounds that Verizon customers can follow, but obviously not everybody in the U.S. has a smartphone that supports apps, or a data plan that allows them to use the app all the time. It’s going to be challenging.”
Plus, he notes, less than 2 percent of Remind users have opted to purchase the premium service since it first became available in 2017, and many schools just aren’t in a position to foot that bill.
For school and district users in Canada, the paid plan isn’t even an option—at least not yet.
That means people like Diana Field have fewer options. Field is a 1st-grade teacher for the Thames Valley District School Board in Ontario, and she says she’s been using Remind for nearly eight years—almost as long as the company has been around.
“[Remind is] a vital part of our class culture,” Field says, “and the connections between home and school will diminish if the fees aren’t reversed. Parents won’t be as engaged, and that would be detrimental to the support and teamwork students need and deserve.”