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Old 07 June 2010, 08:31 PM
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snopes snopes is offline
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Location: California
Posts: 109,642
Cell Phone $22,000 cell phone bill

Comment: I spent last holiday season working telephone customer service
for a company that sold, among MANY other things, both streaming video and
cellular phones. This was a story told to us in training.

Some other background: most sites that sell movies to watch online use
geofiltering, so the sites do not work outside of a certain area, most
commonly the United States.

No claim was made as to whether this guy had purchased the video from my
company or from one of our competitors: my trainer thought he had
purchased the _cell phone_ from us, and the _movie_ from a competitor.

The story:

Today we learned about cell phones. At one point our trainer stopped and
said "So, do you guys want to hear about the most expensive Wall-E ever?"
"YEAH." Yeah we did.

Nowhere else in the world does cell phones the way the United States does.
Period. This is because everyone else in the world accepts that a cell
phone costs $700 and they pay $700 and put up with none of this plan

An American tourist in Mexico wanted to watch Wall-E online via a
streaming video service, and couldn't get it to work because his hotel did
not have an American ISP (and I suspect that even had that not been an
issue, the data transfer size would have been). So he figured he'd just
set his cell phone up as a modem and download it that way.

Those of you familiar with American cell phone plans, I want you to think
about the kind of fees involved with this. Fees for downloading 700GB of
data in streaming video. Roaming internationally. Forget the *patience*
associated with this endeavor, just think about the service charges.

Now guess what his phone bill was.

Twenty-two THOUSAND dollars. $22,000.

Guy gets his phone bill. Guy screams to every company he can think of to
scream at and, eventually, his service provider cuts him a deal: he only
has to pay for what the Mexican routing company charged them for the

SEVEN thousand dollars. $7,000. Still cheaper than $22,000, man is still

The irony comes in two parts. One, if he had *pirated* the movie and
downloaded it illegally *and gotten caught,* his fine would have been

Two, this is Mexico. He could have gone out and bought a pirated version
of the DVD for about ten pesos, or 50 cents US.

At the time, and facing the oncoming tsunami of cranky holiday callers,
this story was lovely. As the willing and eager suspension of disbelief
fades, however, I have to wonder...
..that can't *really* happen, can it?
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Old 07 June 2010, 08:45 PM
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lord_feldon lord_feldon is offline
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700GB of data in streaming video.
I really doubt that. Unless someone mixed up megabytes and gigabytes.
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Old 07 June 2010, 09:22 PM
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rhiandmoi rhiandmoi is offline
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Who knows how to tether their blackberry, but doesn't know that international data is $.02/kb?
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Old 07 June 2010, 09:57 PM
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Wolf333 Wolf333 is offline
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Originally Posted by lord_feldon View Post
I really doubt that. Unless someone mixed up megabytes and gigabytes.
Maybe he watched the directors cut... in 4D.
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Old 07 June 2010, 10:17 PM
FullMetal FullMetal is offline
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Location: Edmonton, AB
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regarding the cell bill size? doing that it's completely understandable. I company I did work for in the past, did some work in Mexico. he would vpn in through his aircard while in Mexico. He did do heavy traffic, lots of Autocad drawings, images etc. after a week, he was cut off. after phoning around he found out that he had over $10,000 in roaming charges and the cell company cut him off to prevent charges going completely overboard. He had to sign and fax a waiver and pay the $10,000 outstanding balance (as an assurance that he was able to pay the fees he was incurring) for it to be reinstated.

he was livid. I found out about it because I was part of the trying to figure out whats going on side... and only found out about the telus charges side of things because I overheard the receptionist questioning a letter that came in demanding payment of over $10,000. (for a phone number she didn't recognize, the aircard)

So I can see this being at least partially true. and if someone didn't know what they were doing, yes a 700 MB (I'm assuming hes confusing GB and MB... if not that's got to be the best quality Wall-E ever produced. or he downloaded it 1000 times...)
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Old 07 June 2010, 10:22 PM
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James G James G is offline
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Its not just in the US, in the UK you'd get similarly screwed for roaming data charges. I've actually specifically disabled my data access abroad to avoid this issue. Not because I might accidentally download a film, but because I don't trust my phone not try and synch my calendar automatically.) Depending on your data provider you also get charged a small fortune for going out of bundle, even within the UK. I'm not entirely sure what my out of bundle rates are on my mobile, as I have an 'unlimited' (1GB) allowance, and rarely hit 500Mb. 3 are also nice enough to send you 50% and 90%(?) warnings.

Meanwhile though I currently get my main internet through a 3G dongle. 10GB a month for 24.99 rolling 1 month contract. (There are better deals available now, but I only need this connection for another month or two) Out of bundle charges are 5p per megabyte, which quickly build up if you aren't careful. That said, they cap out of bundle charges at 40, and then cut you off, clearly to avoid situations like this.

Also, it is not only the US which does cheap phones with minimum term contracts. Its pretty standard in the UK as well. Of course, you don't HAVE to lock yourself into an 12, 18 or 24 month contract, as there are prepay and rolling month contracts as well. Of course for these, you pay more at the outset, and lack some of the perks for high usage. Just the other week, T-Mobile was giving away free handsets (very basic ones) if you brought 10 prepay credit, so there is quite a lot of variation in plans, depending on your requirements.
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Old 07 June 2010, 11:10 PM
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Dropbear Dropbear is offline
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$4000 phone bill for Crows' losing score

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Old 08 June 2010, 04:54 PM
Sooeygun Sooeygun is offline
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Location: Toronto, ON
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Made me think of this story from a few years ago

Canadian man racks up $85,000 cell phone bill
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Old 09 June 2010, 07:46 AM
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Critterbites Critterbites is offline
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Location: Salinas, CA
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My SIL, who lives about 200 miles from here, put my son on her AT&T plan ~ some kind of "unlimited family" thing ~ and is paying for his phone, in return for all the work he's done for her since her husband (my brother) died. When he uses the phone close to home, it's roaming. This doesn't normally incur extra charges.

He sent the SIL three photos a couple weeks ago, under 100k each.

Bill came: More than $200 over the normal fee. Excess is for "data transfer," incurred from mailing those photos. We all thought the amount was a mistake, but after reading these stories, it sounds about right for a phone that's always roaming. Well, not right, but correct. The SIL is still disputing those charges, though.
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Old 09 June 2010, 08:09 AM
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Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
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Not to be a total company shill but if you're going to have a phone that's used primarily in a roaming area and you're on the plan to take advantage of mobile to mobile, just go with whichever carrier has service in that area instead. Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and what's left of Alltel all have programs where, so long as you have a large enough plan, you can set up a certain number of phone numbers that person can call without using minutes. If they don't use enough minutes to qualify for the programs (Friends and Family, MyCircle, 5 Faves, whatever the individual company calls them), they probably aren't using that many minutes anyway and the smaller plan would be fine.

And in most cases, if you can only get roaming service from your home address, AT&T should probably let you out of your contract. I know my company does that; when I worked in voice technical support one of the things in my job description was filing a "trouble ticket" to let the network team know that a given customer had no service or only roaming service at their home address and if they could check that out so that I could waive their early termination fee. I know Sprint has in the past gone the other direction, kicking people off their service if the majority of their minutes used in a certain time frame (I think 3 months) are roaming. All of the carriers want your service, of course, but the pass-through and roaming charges they themselves have to pay generally make it more cost effective to let you go, to say nothing of the bad PR of a person who is paying for service every month but not technically getting any.

As for the OP... I've never seen $22k in data charges but I have seen numbers in the several thousands from international data roaming. Our company shuts off a device and requires the customer to contact a specific section of our fraud department to confirm that yes, they are aware of the humongous charges and yes, they want to continue to use it anyway. Sometimes that forced shutting off of service allows us to move them to a plan that will either remove the impending charges or mitigate them somewhat. Still, that's not usually a fun call to take - not only are you speaking with someone whose device is mysteriously not working, but you have to inform them that the reason it isn't is that their next bill is going to be $5,000 higher. And you as a regular customer service rep (again, they're supposed to contact a specific fraud line, but many people call the number they remember and that's us) can't generally do anything about it except apologize and get them to the right people. It's not a fun situation all around and I have to admit that I find myself more often than not dissuading people from using their data cards overseas (we have plans that allow folks to use their PDAs for email and so on an unlimited amount at no extra charge so it's really only data cards that have this issue). Yes, we do have data plans, but they're very pricey and even with the extra charges you only get a couple hundred megabytes of bandwidth to use before you start getting billed per kilobyte again.

So anyway... even though the OP has the ring of an urban legend in that it leaps back to the tired old privileged American tourist meme, it has some grain of truth to it. A lot of people simply do not make that connection in their minds that downloading something really, really big might cost them a lot of money. It does not, after all, cost them scads when they do the same thing through their cable company or DSL or dish network at home. Sometimes I think the cellular networks work so near-flawlessly and efficiently that people take for granted the incredible amount of technology that goes into making them work.
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Old 09 June 2010, 04:20 PM
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Joostik Joostik is offline
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Location: Utrecht, Netherlands
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Nowhere else in the world does cell phones the way the United States does.
Period. This is because everyone else in the world accepts that a cell
phone costs $700 and they pay $700 and put up with none of this plan
"Period" what you like, there's nothing uniquely American about those plans.
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Old 09 June 2010, 05:29 PM
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James G James G is offline
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Location: London, UK
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Just a question:

Am I right in understanding that in the US it is possible to be charged roaming charges without leaving the country? I get the impression that this isn't even a cross-state thing, but rather that if you are outside your networks coverage, you can use an alternative network, but will incur higher fees.

This doesn't occur in the UK, possibly due to its smaller size making it easier for all networks to offer good coverage. If you do happen to slip outside your networks coverage are however (an increasingly rare occurrence) and can still get coverage from another provider, then you still wont be able to make anything but emergency calls.

I think in a few cases, the networks have agreements that mean in some cases they'll share transmitters. However, this is largely transparent to the end-user, and doesn't have any effect on their billing. (It can mean a lower priority, but this is only really an issue when the networks are overloaded, which I've only ever noticed at new year.)

In the UK, you only incur roaming charges when on a foreign network.

How do Smartphone users prevent their phone doing something like checking E-mail or Twitter when roaming? I'm assuming there is some settings to disable this? (Not sure my phone has it, I disabled data roaming with my provider, rather than at the phone)
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Old 09 June 2010, 05:33 PM
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Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
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Location: Tonbridge, Kent, UK
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Adding to Joostik's point.

No generally speaking - at least in the UK - we do not pay full price for a phone. You can if you want, but nobody with a scrap of common sense does.

Contract phones where you are locked in to a provider cost usually 0.00 or a few pennies more.

PAYG phones usually cost less than 100 for a spanky one, or 20 if you want the basics.

All these pieces of equipment are probably worth the equivalent of $700 or more if you were to buy them on an open market, but the service providers heavily discount them in the hope that they make up their loss in calling fees.

One rather prominent cellphone company here sells completely unlocked phones - you buy the phone, pick the provider that's offering the best deal on the phone you like (it's usually a few pounds difference, but hey better in my pocket) throw away their SIM and slot in the one from your favoured provider.
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Old 09 June 2010, 05:34 PM
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Johnny Slick Johnny Slick is offline
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Some carriers charge for domestic roaming, most have arrangements with at least someone else to provide coverage where they don't have their own towers, and at least one carrier locks out their phones from accessing towers that would otherwise charge for the service.
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Old 09 June 2010, 05:41 PM
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Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
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Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
Some carriers charge for domestic roaming, most have arrangements with at least someone else to provide coverage where they don't have their own towers, and at least one carrier locks out their phones from accessing towers that would otherwise charge for the service.
Strange. Our carriers have come to a "you scratch my back - I'll scratch yours" sort of agreement. It's sort of pointless for Orange, T-Mobile, O2 and whoever else to all build their own towers in the same area - so they share the infrastructure. No doubt there is some sort of means by which they pay each other, but that's not reflected inthe customer's bill - I pay my supplier the same whatever per minute, but I could be using anyone's tower - it's down to them if and how they recover any additional cost. That's within the UK. International roaming is a whole different animal.
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Old 09 June 2010, 05:53 PM
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diddy diddy is offline
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The US has a bigger problem because the cellular networks are not all GSM based. Not to mention that telecoms are not all that nice about playing together - they want to make it as tough as possible for competitors to muscle in on areas since exclusivity is more profitable. The ISP's have the same philosophy.
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Old 09 June 2010, 09:47 PM
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NotYouMe NotYouMe is offline
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I tend to download quite a bit on my computer each month (probably ranging between 20 and 150 gb/month depending on how busy I am). I'd just moved into a place by myself and decided to use my Blackberry's "unlimited tethering" as my primary connection since I wouldn't be able to split an expensive cable internet bill with anyone. Sure, 3g isn't as fast, but it's a whole heck of a lot cheaper, so I figured it was worth it. The first day in my new place I downloaded about 4.5gb. The next day saw a large volume of stuff that I had to go through, so I queued up the download manager and waited for the next 8gb to arrive. While I was waiting, I realized that my phone bill was due and went to go check my statement. For some reason I felt like it might be a good idea to review the terms of my plan, and that's when I learned that "unlimited tethering" really means "limited to 5gb per month." Needless to say I yanked the USB tether from my computer as quickly as possible, and as a result I got off pretty light, only ~300mb over. Still, if I had paid my bill a couple days earlier, you can bet one of these stories would be about me, followed shortly thereafter by a story about a guy burning down a certain cell-provider's HQ. (I kid.)

Seriously, though, how on earth can these companies get away with calling it "unlimited" when it is the exact opposite? I mean, I can understand it being the customer's fault for tethering when that's not in the plan or even roaming (although they still charge wayyy too much for either), but why would I expect that "unlimited tethering" is actually very limited?! I know, it's important to read your plan carefully and all, but this doesn't seem like a gray area. By any reasonable definition, I can't see that as anything short of blatant lying.
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