RIM, Get Ready To Pay Up For That Massive Outage

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Now that RIM’s global network is out of the woods, carriers are having to deal with the public relations nightmare that the outage has caused.

Given the sheer number of vocal BlackBerry users gumming up Twitter with calls for compensation, we (and all of their customers) are left wondering how RIM is going to handle this.

Today’s is a drastically different picture than the one RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie painted in a recent conference call. When asked if RIM would be compensating their carrier partners for the trouble, Balsillie said that it was the last thing anyone was thinking about. According to him, he was heartened to see how carriers the world over offered their support in RIM’s time of crisis.

“This has not been about pointing fingers,” said Balsillie. “This has been about serving customers.”

While true, this strikes me as a bit of a lame excuse. Of course these carriers were supportive — they wanted the network up and running as soon as possible, so that their users (and their wallets) wouldn’t jump ship. For customers, the carriers are the most visible target for service issues, whether the problem was theirs or not.

Now, that service has been restored, we’re starting to see how these carriers are making it up to their customers. All of the South African providers, for example, are either issuing service credits or offering free calls and messages to their customers. Etisalat, a carrier out of the UAE, will be offering BlackBerry users three days of free usage.

Apparently, carriers in Spain like Telefonica are legally bound to pay their customers for every 24 hours that service was affected. It won’t result in a huge win for individual customers — they’re expected to pick up a few extra Euro each — but Telefonica will certainly be feeling the pinch.

It’s not entirely clear to what extent (if at all) RIM will be covering these compensatory costs, but you’d better believe carriers will try and foist the bill onto the folks in Waterloo. Analyst Gus Papageorgiou of Scotia Capital puts RIM’s potential payout at over $100 million.

What’s still up in the air is if RIM will be directly compensating their customers, as opposed to covering the costs incurred by carriers doing it. The issue was brought up more than a few times during yesterday’s conference all, and all the pair of co-CEOs could say is that it’s a “priority.”

Even if they don’t reach out their customers, RIM could face legal pressure from irate customers. RIM’s been on the receiving end of class action lawsuits before, and they could face a doozy of one if enough users band together. Whether or not it sticks is another thing entirely.

It’s looking at this point like there’s no way RIM is going to get out this mess without opening up the corporate wallet. Unfortunately, it’s the exact last thing RIM needs right now. The company is in dire straits as is, and while it’s unlikely compensatory costs will send them into ruin, it certainly makes RIM’s future look even bleaker.