$1,154.99 in Mobile Data... Ouch


That's quite the number, hey? Nope, it wasn't me, actually... my bill from the 3GSM trip in February was surprisingly small. My coworker Jonathan Strauss wasn't as lucky however. (Yeah, that's the same person from the last post... two in one day!). Check out his blog for the details, but essentially something happened when he swapped over from Cingular Blue to normal Cingular a month or so ago, and they, um, forgot to move his unlimited data plan with him, so he was off in Europe for several weeks and using Yahoo! Go Mobile the entire time, paying per kilobyte of data.


For those of you keeping track at home, that's 73,462Kb @ $0.01/Kb in non-WAP data and 19,349Kb @ $0.02/Kb in WAP data. I was trying to figure out what in the world Jonathan could have been doing to use up 19MB of WAP data, but since the only real answer is porn, I didn't push it. But still, this is nutty. These sorts of overcharges shouldn't ever, ever happen. How in the world can a carrier just ignore these sorts of run-ups and not cap off your bill at a certain point? I bitched about this before with SMS charges... kids running up insane bills on their parents accounts and the operators sitting back and ignoring it. If I spend too much money on my debit card, my bank will shut it down and call me (or, I have to call them, usually irate, but generally understanding at the reasoning). How can this not be the case for mobile phones? It's ridiculous.

In this instance it's the operator's fault during the switch, so Jonathan shouldn't have to pay. But imagine you're just some Joe who just got a new phone and didn't bother with the data plan because, hey, what's one cent a kilobyte, right? Or maybe they think they'll never bother with that stuff. Then they end up using the phone for something and start racking up a huge bill, and the operators do nothing about it. It's outright negligence and fraud if you ask me, and every operator in every country does it. The worst thing is that once this happens to a normal person, they are pretty much sworn off mobile data for life and will try to make sure everyone they know is as well. So not only did the carrier screw their customer, they screwed everyone in the Mobile Internet business as well. Nice, huh?

I wouldn't be surprised to see a class action suit on this topic some day here in the U.S. It's more than reasonable to expect a company to watch out for these sorts of out-of-ordinary charges and respond accordingly by shutting down the data access. That's easy and non-invasive. Hell, everyone *has* SMS on their phone... what's wrong with a message every, say $250 that says something along the lines of "Hey! Thanks for using our service.. just wanted to let you know your bill has a few more zeros than you're used to, so you might want to check with us about your data plan." How hard is that? They keep track of that stuff for pre-pay plans don't they?

The fact that this sounds so unlikely tells you exactly how bad it really is.


Update: Looks like I was wrong about every carrier, Gareth posted to his blog that this is exactly what O2 in the UK does: "This is a courtesy message from O2 informing you that your spend is now £50 over your line rental for this month. There is no need to for you to take any action.". Perfect. Now why doesn't *every* carrier do that? Why isn't it mandated by law since these semi-monopolies can't figure it out for themselves?

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