Clarification : Before reading this understand I have at NO point asked Verizon for a reduction on price, I was offered a reduction. I accept the fact that I knew the TOS and I am legally bound to a contract. What I am trying to accomplish with this post is an education of other consumers that might be trying to understand Verizon’s data roaming. If you feel this is not a topic that consumers need to be informed about, perhaps you can explain why in the comments. Did I make a foolish mistake by not exploring the data roaming more in-depth, YES! Did Verizon have tools to keep this all from happening, YES! Will other people make this mistake, lets hope not after this post.
For the last 6 months I have been a relatively big Verizon fan boy. The switch from T-Mobile meant I had increased data connectivity and my two favorite gadgets- my Droid and Mifi. I felt as though I had found a mobile carrier I could finally be comfortable with long term…
Then, on March 25th, I got a call from a Verizon rep letting me know I had a payment due of $256 …. and a current balance of over $7400. They couldn’t possibly be talking about my account could they? Did they mix me up with somebody else?
At the end of February I went on a business trip to visit some clients in Tel Aviv. I had forgotten that T-Mobile had been my carrier during my last trip overseas, so on the way to the airport I decided to call customer support to check on the functionality of my two fav gadgets during my week long trip to the Middle East.
First off, the customer service rep informed me my Droid would not get service in Tel Aviv. (This turned out to be untrue. I was able to use my phone for local and international calls with reasonable roaming charges)
Secondly, the person informed me that my Mifi would work overseas- I was hyped. He informed me as I got ready to go that the data would come in at 2 cents a kilobyte.
I was thinking to myself: Wait… What the hell does that mean?!
At this point in the story it is probably important to explain that while I am pretty savvy when it comes to most things, however, concepts such as data size and usage are both areas where I’m on par with the average mobile phone consumer. I love how they explain the most simplistic things, but nothing that could really affect how much you’re being charged:
I asked the customer service rep what my normal data usage costs are so I could compare it. He stated that because I was on an unlimited plan, I was not charged by kilobyte. Okay… that wasn’t much help at all, nor did it answer my question. I explained to him that I just didn’t want to come back to some huge bill and wanted to be aware of any charges I might incur. The conversation ended with him trying to send me a global phone despite the fact that I was leaving for the airport. While he might have intended on being helpful, it certainly didn’t turn out that way.
When I was in Israel, the internet connection in my hotel and at my clients’ office was pretty much worthless. I used my Mifi without a second thought.
During my time in Israel I used over 350,000 KB of data. Most of this data was most likely me having to reload the horrible connection everywhere I went. This was not even heavy usage for me… I have killed my 5GB maximum several times.
Breaking down the cost
Let’s say the average webpage, including images, flash etc., is 300kb. At the rates I was charged, I could view 9 webpages before I met my average cost of monthly data service.
To put everything into perspective, a 15 minute Skype call would cost $875.
Watching one music video on Youtube would cost you about $200.
I can connect up to 5 of my employees to my Mifi; if I had traveled with a team to Tel Aviv and used my full 5 GB of a lotted monthly usage I would have come to a $100,000 bill- something that usually costs me $50. The thought of that even “accidentally” being allowed to happen makes my head spin.
Obviously when I received my call on the 25th I was a tiny bit upset. I couldn’t even process how this happened.
The gentlemen on the other end explained my data usage. When I explained that I had no understanding of what the kb usage meant, he stated, “Well sir you knew the terms of service.” From that moment on, this became a theme for my interaction with Verizon. Note that they use the word “knew” and not “understood.” It’s as if they are implying that one should be able to comprehend the words written on the TOS, but it wasn’t so important that they actually understand it.
I explained that I was distressed; I had not been alerted during my use of the cost rising, and also that the unusual use and cost did not trip some sort of alert. These are concepts that almost every business service I have, including Amex, use to protect their consumers and themselves.
He stuck to the line that I knew the TOS- even though if they look back into the recorded conversations, the TOS was the 2 cents a kb I questioned before I left and never received a clear answer for. I explained I would likely be leaving Verizon due to this issue, and would do everything to tell people what was being done to people that used data overseas. Neither of these concepts seemed to matter to the customer service rep. Perhaps it was because the $7400 bill represented my contracted us with Verizon for the next three years. Why did they even need me as a customer anymore? Or did they only want my money?
The Ugly Truth
The ugly truth is that upon investigating the issue, I found a number of things could have been done by Verizon to protect me as a consumer. They may not mention them outright, but they are there. The fact that these things were not done can only lead me to assume that Verizon would rather their consumers “understand” as little as possible about their TOS.
Verizon should have noticed erratic usage, tripping off a red alert.
1. Verizon has a detailed history of my usage information. They could have easily told me on the phone, when I asked, what my average use would have meant in terms of dollars.
2. I found out when I got back that the VZ Manager software in the Mifi can track KB usage when tethered. I never tether my device so I did not know this. The customer service rep could have educated me on how to use the device to track data use and thus keep my costs low. This was something that I was told I could have had explained to me by an executive customer service rep, which led me to ask “How come you are telling me this now, if this is common knowledge for customer support?”
The real issue is: how does Verizon allow use of a device, such as a Mifi hotspot, in areas where they cannot get their customer’s quality data costs? This is pretty easy to control, and yet Verizon does nothing. No consumer wants to pay $6 per website- clearly it can’t be to serve their customers.
Interaction with Customer Service
I spent a few days venting on Twitter about the issue. This put me in contact with every Verizon account, who would then pass me on to the next Verizon account. This was a super annoying way to beat around the bush.
Then one of the Twitter accounts told me this:
I was beyond pissed. I’d had it. How could they treat customers like this? How could they fail so badly in terms of customer service? I tried to equate it to my business to put it into perspective- Say we ran an Adwords account for a client, based specifically on what the client asked, but did not monitor the account and let it run to 30x the normal spend. We would be responsible for this. Not contractually, but ethically.
At the beginning of April, I got a call from an executive customer representative. This was the biggest customer service fail of the entire experience. She was condescending and didn’t want to hear my concerns.
She asked, “Mr.Snyder how much of this bill can you pay?”
Being honest I said “All of it”
She wanted me to come up with an amount so they wouldn’t have to claim any wrong doing, essentially trying to shut me up. But I can pay it, I am not about to lie. This entire issue for me was not about money; it was about how a company, that I was extremely loyal to, could treat me so terribly. The conversation ended, but she called me the next day.
I told her, “You asked me yesterday what I could pay, and I said all of it.”
“Yes sir. Then I told you we would reduce the bill to half if you are willing to accept that. You did know the terms of service.”
Since I had acknowledged that I should have done a better job looking into what the TOS meant to me, I was willing to accept this. It meant I was being honest, and that I could continue to seek out answers with a clear conscious.
I want the point to be clear.
I am not bitching about my bill. I messed up by trusting my mobile carrier in hopes that they would care enough about me to prevent this from happening. I am pretty embarrassed by how stupid I was by assuming this.
What I am upset about is the data roaming policies of Verizon in reference to their products that are ‘data only’. Their customer service policy could easily be augmented to protect their customers better. T cherry on top of the nightmare- the insanely horrible customer service- has me really thinking about leaving Verizon. But where do I go? The customer service rep let me know that any carrier would charge me for data roaming. Since she felt the need to enlighten me about that, I am looking for the carrier that will help me understand the terms of service that they offer me- rather than hoping I exceed the bounds of their contract in some way.
Since Verizon obviously doesn’t care about its customers concerns, I was hoping to open up my comments section as a place for you to voice your frustration with the company. Please refrain from becoming too emotional, profane or vulgar.
Update: Based on the commenter below “Nope” I thought I would break down why I am upset in terms that might make it easier to understand
You are on a road trip to and pull into a gas station, it is only full service.
The sign says – 2 cents per minim
You ask the gentleman that comes to you window, “Excuse me, what is a minim?”
He responds, “It’s a unit of measure smaller than a gallon”
“Well how much will it take to fill my tank, I usually pay $45 for 15 gallons?” you ask.
He responds, “Well I can’t tell you because we charge in minims.”
“Can’t you convert this for me, I just don’t want to spend a ton on gas?”
“Well I have to fill up so I agree to your 2 cents per minim,” you finally relent.
The gentleman fills you up and brings back a bill for $18,432. He explains “You knew the rate of the gas and agreed, I will need my $18,432.”
It’s true, you agreed to the gas rate, but did you know what you were agreeing too? As you drive away you wonder if the system the gas station put in place wasn’t done in order to confuse their customers into agreeing to the purchase.
Now I will concede that kilobytes are easier to figure out in terms of their relation to megabytes and gigabytes, then minims to gallons, however their usage is anything but an easily figured metric. Every email, webpage, IM, and file on the internet is a different size. It’s almost impossible to know before you use data how much you are going to use, and tracking it is impossible without software specifically for the task.