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Sprint Fumbles on Haiti Efforts


Why its damage control from donation text fees isn't working.

Verizon (VZ), T-Mobile (DT), AT&T (T), and Sprint (S) are making it easy for people to donate money to the Red Cross -- which has already contributed $10 million of its own -- for disaster relief operations in Haiti.

Just text "Haiti" to 90999 and a $10 donation will be sent to aid the country through an effort backed by the US State Department. So far, more than $5 million has been raised, and donations are reportedly coming in at $200,000 an hour.

Not only is this gesture helping to alleviate the unspeakable suffering Haitians are currently contending with, it also helped Sprint try to turn a tidy little profit to the tune of $0.20 per message sent.

Verizon and T-Mobile never charged customer for their text donations. In fact, T-Mobile even offered free calls to people in the States trying to contact their loved ones back home.

AT&T charged at first, but quickly came to its senses and reversed its policy almost immediately.

Sprint, however, decided not to let a little widespread destruction that left three million people homeless -- fully one-third of Haiti's population -- get between them and a buck. Until the backlash, that is.

On Thursday, a Sprint spokeswoman defended the charge, telling MSNBC, "If a customer does not use any of the [texting plan] options, standard text messaging charges will apply." She said customers can upgrade to a new plan to include texts without extending their contracts.

But after a tsunami of negative PR, Sprint announced its intention to waive the per-message fee, retroactive to this past Wednesday. A spokeswoman told Minyanville that the reason the reversal of the charge was delayed was because of back office issues to work out on the billing side.

The company trumpeted the fee removal on its website, where Sprint's crack publicity department was quick to play up exactly how the Sprint Foundation has rushed to the aid of the devastated Haitians.

"We have all been impacted by what the people of Haiti have experienced these past days, and our hearts go out to those who have lost family and friends in the disaster," Ralph Reid, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility for Sprint, said. "This support from the Sprint Foundation will allow American Red Cross relief crews to give valuable assistance where it is needed most."

Of course, the $50,000 Sprint has so generously handed over to the American Red Cross International Relief Fund, along with a promise to match employee contributions up to $50,000, means Sprint could potentially end up donating an astounding $100,000 before all is said and done.

In contrast, Sprint customers have contributed more than $882,000 so far.

Who cares if Sprint posted 2008 revenues of $35.64 billion? That $50,000 ought to help out tremendously.

Surely, Cisco (CSCO), which donated $1.25 million, is impressed by such largesse.

Or UPS (UPS), which handed over $1 million in aid.

The fellows at Google (GOOG), who sent $1 million themselves, are probably raising a glass to Sprint right now.

Just as Jeff Immelt and the crew at General Electric (GE) ($2.5 million), Steve Ballmer and his staff at Microsoft (MSFT) ($1.25 million), and the good people at Coca-Cola (KO) ($1 million) must be.

Maybe Sprint simply isn't getting a fair shake. After all, it does point out that it will be giving "100% of all the money donated through texting to the appropriate non-profit organizations."
How generous of them.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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