The country’s largest wireless carrier, Verizon, will begin charging its subscribers a $2 “convenience fee” to pay their bills.

The only way to avoid this fee is to sign up for automatic payments through Verizon’s website, according to a report from Droid-Life. The new fee will go into effect beginning Jan. 15, 2012. Verizon’s actions follow the same policy Sprint implemented earlier this year to get more people signed up for automatic payments.

Verizon subscribers have every right to be nervous about setting up an automatic payment agreement — especially now that the company has shifted from unlimited data usage subscription plans to capped/metered data usage plans. Last year, the company admitted that it had overcharged 15 million customers for unnecessary data usage, netting the company an estimated $90 million in fees.

More than that, it’s ridiculous to consider paying a bill a “convenience”. I can understand why Verizon would want to charge people for paying bills over the phone, since it requires additional labor costs. However, this new policy implies that the act of allowing you to pay your bill when it’s due isn’t a convenience, it’s a necessary cost of doing business.

The reason Verizon and other carriers can get away with this type of practice has to do with the lack of competition in the wireless market. It wouldn’t work in other markets. Imagine if your local grocery store decided to implement a fee for walking in the door, using a shopping cart and ringing up all of your items. You’d go somewhere else.

I hope federal regulators are paying attention to this type of behavior when assessing Verizon’s recent deal with big cable companies to expand its wireless business.

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