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back to article Canadian runs up $85,000 mobe bill

A Calgary man who mistakenly believed that a $10 "unlimited mobile browser plan" would enable him to surf the internet with impunity, "downloading high-definition movies and other bandwidth-hungry applications", was slapped with an $85,000 bill for his trouble. According to Canada's Globe and Mail, 22-year-old Piotr Staniaszek …

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Les
Alien

The best bit..

..was a quote the weaselcorp, sorry, telco's spokesdroid gave to the Canadian media (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2007/12/12/cell-phone.html)

"Bell cannot monitor the activities of every one of its customers"

Really? Must make it a bit tricky to send them bills every month.

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Alien

US Broadband

There are huge swaths of the US that have no broadband outside of satellite - and even that is a very loose definition of broadband. I exited the ISP world early this year but I can safely say large parts of the midwest are no-man's land.

Look at the US national maps for unlimited data offerings by cell providers, any provider. There's a pretty good correlation between no unlimited data and no landbased broadband.

As to the Canadian Bell charges I would hope he gets good counsel - a reasonable person shouldn't expect that a $10 a month contract can lead to thousands of dollars of charges. Of course the Bell will charge outrageously, it's a company mandate to screw the clients. Anyone in the telco world will tell you similar horror stories of overbilling that were finally resolved in their favor.

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Stop

No Mobe!

No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe. No Mobe.

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@Walter Francis

Have you ever been to Wyoming? Or Colorado? Or nearly any state that isn't on a coast?

Even slow DSL can only go -so many miles from a telephone CO before it just doesn't work. And how many COs do you think there are in a state which doesn't even need an entire area code for its residents?

I know people even in California, within half an hour driving distance of the capitol city who have to use sattelite broadband. They live so far from the phone CO that they could only get call quality good enough for 12kbit dialup before they switched to Dish.

And that is in one of the most heavily populated states in the country. Go on a cross country driving vacation or something, because you clearly haven't got a grasp of how large and empty this place really is.

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C

Faster than DSL

This was a Bell Mobility phone. I'm pretty sure Bell Mobility has a CDMA network, and is probably using CDMA EV-DO, which allows data transfer rates up to 2.4Mbit, significantly faster than DSL in some areas (the fastest DSL I can get is 1.5Mbit, not too far from Seattle).

I have a $10/month unlimited data plan from Sprint which really does allow unlimited data transfer (within reason - there are clauses about not using with servers, etc.). When I got the plan there was no clause about "Phone as Modem" use. That plan no longer exists, I pay about $40/month for a plan which would now cost around $150/month. Sprint unlimited "Phone as Modem" plans are now $60/month, 40MB plan is $40/month, $0.01/KB after that, with a $100 cap.

I think it's safe to say our friendly Canadian, while possibly being a moron, is getting undeservedly screwed by Bell Mobility.

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Coat

I hope he wins and it becomes a precedent

These big companies have been stringing us along for long enough. Free should mean free - as in "Free Phone" should mean that if I simply want a phone I can get one without any other strings attached. If I have to buy a mobile telephone plan and I get a phone with it, it should be called a "Complimentary Phone", because it's not free.

The same goes with "Unlimited", it should be, as the dictionary says:

-----

un·lim·it·ed

1. not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.

2. boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.

3. without any qualification or exception; unconditional.

-----

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unlimited

That's the first thing that's wrong, the second one is distinguishing between data and data - they're the same. If his phone had a browser and a large (for a phone) memory, he could have downloaded, say a Linux DVD ISO image onto using his phone. Same amount of data, different rate. It's like saying you can only speak a certain language, or if you use a bluetooth headset you get charged another rate. Rubbish. Data is data, and his data was "Unlimited" - they should stick to their words (not the fine print).

The third thing that's wrong is that the sharks probably had a buzzer go off when he hit $2,000, and probably every $2,000 after that, and they sat there grinning knowing that someone out there is either making them silly amounts of money (just like turning on a printer to print money) for nothing, or that they'll be able to sue someones arse to oblivion. Either way, they're the big ones preying on the little ones. Surely the humane thing to do would be to pick up the phone and give the guy a friendly phone call telling him that he's heading towards Poop Creek with a toothpick as a paddle. But they chose not to - they should pick up the bill for their own greed.

I hope he wins; it's time the consumers, like you and me, gets treated like humans instead of a walking source of revenue.

I'll get my coat because most of you would probably have sat there watching his bill rack up.. ;) ;) :D :D

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Stu
Alien

Credit Limits

Having inadvertently run up a £300 phone bill in the first month I had a smart phone (didn't realise that it was costing me 10p every time I checked my e-mail - bloody IMAP over HTTPS...) I have some sympathy with the guy. These companies should be mandated to send you a text whenever you go over a "more than expected usage" limit, be it texts, calls, data, whatever, and should allow you to set a hard "credit limit" that you can only remove on a month-by-month basis when you actually hit it.

The story carried on the BBC website explains that the guy in question claims that in the past the same provider had temporarily cut him off for going over $100 spend in a month - as a measure to prevent him from overspending. So in that case I think he has reasonable grounds to expect them to do the same again, which they clearly didn't. Good luck to him. Mobile data's too restrictive, and too expensive.

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This is why...

...i like my 3 Skypephone so much.

£5 a month for 1GB of USB modem goodness. Oh, and unlimited* free Skypeing too.

*Subject to fair use policy.

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Unlimited outlawed

Down here in OZ the ACCC has issued statements to the effect that you are unable to use the term unlimited in advertising for plans. Even for plans that are shaped with no excess charges.

While I agree with that it just means that the ISP took another word and twisted the meaning in the small print

The previous best I had heard was a 13 K bill

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Silver badge

But isn't it widely known

But isn't it widely known that mobile phones are not just expensive but _E_X_P_E_N_S_I_V_E_ !!!

I mean just look at the advertisements. A minute costs 10 cents. That's 4320 Eur a month an just for useless voice calls.

Even the mobile operators understand that they are far to expensive and want to get rid of that image.

So the best thing you could do is look at your monthly income. If that's more than, let's say 10000 Eur a month, you can consider getting a mobile phone, if not you are out of luck.

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LOL

bell charges $0.05 per KB without some sort of feature or plan added on your phone service

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The problem with gouging and unethical behaviour is international.

There was recently a similar case here in New Zealand where someone got caught by the fine print, and the company was billing him for the last week's 'free' downloads, about NZ$85k. He estimated that it would be NZ$300k or more if they billed him for the entire month.

The kicker was that he was using a prepaid phone, and was in the habit of putting between NZ$10 and NZ$20 onto his account per month. He assumed, naturally enough, that if he exceeded the amount on his phone then he wouldn't have any more wireless access. But despite the fact that the company in question, Vodaphone, shouldn't have allowed further access once the prepaid amount was gone, they still were going to bill him for the entire lot.

They canceled his bill once a consumer rights TV program got onto the case on the victims behalf.

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Bronze badge

To anyone using the word 'modem' in their post

In reply, no.

No, the mobes do not act like an old fashioned beeping and buzzing modem. There's no audio involved. It's all about USB interfaces and very high speed bits being sent through the air to the local cell tower.

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Thumb Down

Doofus

The guy was a doofus - he should pay the whole bill. Then he should sue the carrier for several million for misleading advertising - "unlimited" means unlimited.

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Flame

what company

in their right mind gives someone a $85,000 line of credit without collateral that's what they have done here they aren't going to get any money this is just hand waving stupidity on their part. Of course the amount is exorbitant hogwash as well it costs no where near that, it is worth no where near that, they might as well have just put any random number on the bill and mailed it. People who say the guy is dumb are also lacking common sense first we don't know the guy is dumb, second are you paying this data rate because if you are you are retarded.

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Unlimited usage...

As in: "there is no limit to the amount payable".

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Bronze badge

Modems and digital data

This was prompted by JeffyPooh and his "To anyone using the word 'modem'" post.

The fact is that pretty well all long distance high-speed data transmission systems use modems. That's even when digital is used the name. That included "Digital Phones", "Digital Subscriber Line" and "Digital Television" - teh service may be digital, but the transmission is analogue. For the long distance part of the connections the signals are modulated and demodulated using schemes such as Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). GSM phones use a scheme called GMSK. Ethernet made use of PAM and so it goes on.

High speed purely digital signals are constrained to very short runs such as those in computer systems buses. The reason is that true digital signals are prone to all sort of long distance effects including signal skewing, interference, signal spreading etc. The only mid/long distance true digital standards, like RS232 and RS423 are inherently slow due to these effects. Relatively high speed digital interfaces, like SCSI are highly distance limited. (Before people quibble, yes I know that the signals are analogue, but they are interpreted digitaly by thresholds, differentials, polarity or whatever).

So in a very real sense a mobile phone includes a modem - that's how it communicates with the mast. In fact the journey that the data bits will take from the cellphone to the final destination will involve very many such modulation/demodulation steps. Quite possibly dozens. Of course that's not what the mobile phone company meant be using the cellphone as a modem here - they were just using it as a short hand term for how you connect a computer to the internet via the mobile phone.

All of this is made possible by the combination of incredibly high speed DA & AD converters and the modern miracle of Digital Signal Processing (DSP). This latter is a unheralded miracle which is one of the half dozen most important technologies in modern computing and telecommunication industry.

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same happened here

I ran up a £500 bill with o2 cos when I has working away from home I used my mobe (yes dam it MOBE) with a bluetoof connection as a mobile and got charged £4 per mb a lot of this was browsing the o2 site for detials of my traif (witch I never found) thouse anamated banners are bandwith heavy and the internet is ot setup on the princibloe you weill be paying for every bit transfered and b4 anyboady askes there was no warning till the bill and the near hart atack

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Anonymous Coward

@Jeremy Davis

Don't insult our intelligence. 3G GSM gives us the same kind of speed as EV-DO does, if not more. Just because digital mobile transmission is new to you lot in the US does not mean that it's new to us. GSM has been pretty damn good when it comes to data coverage, just because it's a pain in the ass to implement in the US because you lot use 1800 MHz for portable home phones, and they have to move all GSM transmission to 1900MHz, doesn't mean it's 'old' and crap compared to EV-DO.

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Flame

That Rogers charged him without warning...

... Is inexcusable. Orange and T-Mobile both warn you when you approach some pre-set limit. T-Mobile automatically sets one for new users, but doesn't tell you what it is until you get the message "It has not been possible to connect your call because you are over your call limit, please make a payment". And that's on a non-prepaid contract.

If this guy was on a deal that established a pattern, and he got a new phone and the established pattern changed dramatically, it would make sense to give the guy a call and ask him what he was doing, in which case he probably would not even have had to pay $3000+ because the problem was averted in time!

Sounds to me like the service provider knew this, knew that they could send him a fat bill and then hopefully get him to pay it. I wish him the best suing the bastards to high heaven and winning.

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J

@Brent Gardner

Regarding a credit limit, they will only monitor it if it is costing _them_ money. If he was roaming on someone else's network (causing that network to charge Rogers) he would have been cut off because there would be a real credit risk. His data use effectively cost them nothing in real dollars, it comes out of the base operating budget so they might as well just absorb the risk, there is none.

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Unhappy

Why was he using his mobile?

One detail The Register omits: Staniaszek works in an oilfield, i.e. the geographical centre of nowhere at all. Reuters spoke to his father:

"He's working in the field sometimes, alone, in the shack. What to do? Drink vodka or go on the Internet?" Staniaszek senior told Reuters on Thursday from Calgary, Alberta.

"Now it's $85,000 and nobody told him," he said.

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN1322682220071213

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Pirate

Customers need be tested ... Smarter than phone ...

I bought mine on ebay at a quarter of retail price, why cuz its original didn't have a clue. Do I use telus' exquisitely expensive data ? Not a bit. Why ? Because 1) I read the cost, 2) If I wanted to surf the web on a low res screen with 400mhz cpu I'd build a friggin time machine and go back to the 90's. The boy`s an idiot and so are the people he`s doing business with.

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Why is anyone surprised he got charged?

The kind of content you use on a PC requires a lot more bandwidth than your average WAP or 3GP compressed movie (the 3GP standard was designed to minimise bandwidth use)

What a muppet!!

The only question is why alarm bells did not go off at the carrier's billing department/network ops centre.

It's mass dowmloading idiots like him and those on fixed connections that are choking the net.

Down with P2P!

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Thumb Up

@Lee Ward

You forgot reason #3 for choosing option 1

You don't use the mobile much, so the $35/mo (or more) is excessive to your needs, so you only spend $10/mo

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Stupidity all around.

The guy's none too bright, but the Carrier company isn't any better. What's more, they actually may have an obligation under Alberta law, to pay attention and not let silly little bills like this happen.

Alberta has an Act called the Fair Trading Act. Under this, if someone sells something to someone who had no use for the product, or could not be expected to pay, is liable. The sanctions can include criminal sanctions (if I remember right, it may only be a hefty fine), and can go up the management chain. A 60k monthly bill is pretty hard to expect someone to have the means to pay. Even if they are working in the Oilsands.

Plus there's the whole Competition Tribunal, the CRTC, etc.

Rogers and Bell sitting there saying "we can't monitor the activities of everyone" is disengenuous, they can tell me every billable action on my phone, complain when I exceed 65GB of data on my "Unlimited broadband". They're able to reliably track something for everyone. A 60k bill should have set off alarm bells at the telco. It didn't, so they have some responsibility here.

They may not like it, but it's likely a required cost of doing business. Of course considering the market is pretty much a monopoly pricing model, the rest of Canada will wind up with his bill.

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Bronze badge

@Steven Jones and 'modems'

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the clarification - which is perfectly correct. But I did choose my words carefully: "...an old fashioned beeping and buzzing modem. There's no audio involved. ..." I added the modifier 'old fashioned beeping and buzzing', and mentioned 'audio', specifically to address your point, in advance, because I saw it coming. In other words, we're in violent agreement.

Several of the previous posters (Rigby, Reeves) mentioning 'modem' seemed to think that the data was carried over audio (implying that the carrier had no reason to charge any more than a voice call). I was trying to address that distinction. I guess not everyone is aware that some mobes can peak at something just over 3 Mbps.

Cheers.

This posting brought to you by the letters WiFi and EV-DO. I'm well past 9GB so far. That would be $450,000 under some data plans. I'm hoping to hit "one megabuck' (by some lunatic reckonings) in a single month.

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Stop

From A Bell Employee

There is a LOT of misinformation running rampant about this story

First off; regarding MBUN (aka Unlimited Mobile Browser)

This service is clearly labelled as *mobile browser* not a full webbrowser (such as you would find on a Blackberry or similar device)

It normally costs $7/month

But the story tells you the customer is paying the full $10 for his service which means he is using a PREPAID phone

Tethering a prepaid phone as a modem is a huge no-no (it does state this right in the data section of your contract) and that is why he is being reamed out for the usage

Also as most normal people point out even if he was allowed to tether his phone, there obviously is a huge differance between using it in that fashion vs using a small WAP based internet browser

And yes I do work for Bell before anyone accuses me of bias but I think its very obvious this guy tried to abuse the system and is now crying he got caught doing it

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Stop

His Legal Contract

http://www.bell.ca/web/wireless/en/all_regions/pdfs/wls_legal/prepaid_legal.pdf

This is what he agreed to (I personally think its pretty clear):

USING CERTAIN FEATURES, SERVICES AND APPLICATIONS ON OR WITH YOUR

DEVICE, AND DOWNLOADING CONTENT, MAY RESULT IN PER-KILOBYTE DATA

TRANSPORT CHARGES. PLEASE ASK YOUR SALES REPRESENTATIVE OR GO TO

(www.bell.ca/mobilebrowser for monthly and www.bell.ca/prepaidbrowser for prepaid) FOR

EXAMPLES OF PER-USE DATA TRANSPORT CHARGES.

You can subscribe to the Unlimited Mobile Browser Feature for unlimited mobile browser usage

at a flat monthly fee, including the data transport services required to download ringtones,

screensavers, games, applications, music, instant messaging, TV previews and clips, MobiTV,

and for any other services using Mobile Browser for data transport. Without Unlimited Mobile

Browser, data transport charges (currently $0.05/KB) will apply when you use any feature or

service using data transport. For example: current average Kilobyte usage to check your

horoscope = 10 KB (50¢), download a ringtone = up to 145 KB ($7.25) plus the cost of the

ringtone (currently up to $4.00) or download a full track song = 1000 KB ($51.20) plus the cost of

the song (e.g. $3). You acknowledge that without Unlimited Mobile Browser you are liable for and

agree to pay Bell’s then current per kilobyte charges for data transport services.

Even if you subscribe to Unlimited Mobile Browser, if you use your device as a modem for a PC

or other device you will be charged additional data transport charges at Bell’s then current per

kilobyte data transport rates. You acknowledge and agree to pay these charges.

If you have activated a data device, you will be charged for data transmissions from or to the

device (including through “tethering” the device to a PC or other device), such as sending and

receiving e-mails, at Bell’s then current per kilobyte data transport rates. If you subscribe to a

data plan, you will be charged additional per kilobyte rates as set out in the plan, for any data

transport usage in excess of the data transport included in the monthly data plan fee. You

acknowledge and agree to pay these charges. Additional data roaming charges may also apply,

including to the use of the Unlimited Mobile Browser.

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Ouch

Whoa ... taser me now.

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Bronze badge

To Shawn@Bell.ca

The problem ~is~ the number ($0.05 per kilobyte), not the language. Write it as "$50,000 per GB" and it is perhaps more clear.

If someone is selling lemonade for $1 per pL (picoliter), and someone wanders by and drinks one glass without realizing the asking price, there's still no way that the bill $100B would stand. They should pay $1 and leave.

Bell should go ahead a sue the guy in Calgary. He will lose and the court will force him to pay. Probably about $75 which is all that amount of data is actually worth in that market (Alberta, Telus, $75 Connect unlimited plan*).

(*available from Bell too by the way... but with much worse Ts & Cs).

Not $3000. Not $5000, And certainly not $85,000.

Seriously, Bell had better settle quietly before the Class Action lawyers get involved. Bell has got MUCH MORE to lose that the $85k. If the court agrees with common sense that their pricing is simply INSANE, then they could be forced to refund BILLIONS for all the price gouging over the years.

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Happy

If he were from norway...

I would've understood why he expected it to cover use with a computer.

Telenor (one of the major operators in this country) charges $12.67 (70 NOK)

maximum per day, i.e it counts $0.0026 per kb until it reaches $12.67, then

stops counting. This is via a computer.

Any other operator here would've just kept charging.

I have managed to get 4-5GB downloaded with this, no problem, and no big

surprises.

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Flame

hahaha

Cant beleive that Bell (not Rogers, which some people seem to think is the telco in this story) allowed a bill to get that big. It is a clear example of what kind of company Bell is, a mean one, and a dedicated member of the "screw your customers as much as you can" school of business. By the way, Bell (and Telus) operate a CDMA network, whereas Rogers (and by extension Fido) operate a GSM network, and have HSDPA (aka 3g I beleive) networks in place. All other network providers (eg Virgin Mobile) are piggy-backing off of one network, which I beleive is the Bell one, because the phones Virgin Mobile sell dont use Sim Cards... anyway, I digress.

For those getting excited about calling Canada "State-side" or not, the population of the USA does not matter. The fact is, Canada is geographically bigger than the USA. Canada has healthcare for everyone, not just those that can afford it. And to be honest, saying that Canada is "state-side" just goes to highlight the ignorance of the worlds perception of Canada. And no, I'm not Canadian! It must infuriate Americans who beleive bigger is better, when their neighbour country to the North is bigger than them. :)

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Stop

No.

"...maybe he can move to the US now he's passed the IQ test?"

Please, no. We have enough stupid people already!

We have a slightly used Republican administration we would like to get rid of. Take them off our hands and we will see what we can do.

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Stop

mobe

mobe mobe mobe lappy mobe.

Get the hell over it you stupid morons. You dont like it? GO READ A LESS INTELLIGENT IT (E-)RAG [SIC].

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Bronze badge
Flame

@ Jeremy Davis

HSDPA (for the civilised world i.e. Europe) = 3.6Mbps over GSM (real, available and working) and rising fast

EV-DO (for the colonies) = 2Mbps (note: NOT the same as 2MBps), 3.1Mbps with revision A (ratified June 2007, theoretically available around now) *

In short, GSM doesn't have EV-DO because it would be a step backward for us, not because we don't know how good (ahem) it is. Now run along and play nicely with the other kids...

* Source: Radio Electronics, http://www.radio-electronics.com/info/cellulartelecomms/evdo/ev-do.php

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