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Containing a selection of published articles from various print media.

Sheridan Sun: Vampires in Telecom: Are mobile phone carriers committing highway robbery?

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Allow me to posit an all-too-common scenario: The cellular phone in your pocket begins to ring. You fish it out and flip it open, only for your finger to accidentally slip and hit the “internet” button.

You just made your telecommunications company a little wealthier.

Best suited for off-road texting.

In recent years, the evolution of the ubiquitous cellular phone has led to the introduction of assorted online services. Mobile phone owners can elect to browse the internet, check their email, update their Facebook status, or broadcast inane tweets regarding the minutiae of their life. However, for many of us, such added functionality is an unnecessary accessory – for those of us, opting out of any online connection is the norm.

But just how many telecoms abide by their customers’ requests to disable this added functionality?


Take the case of Piotr Staniaszek, an Albertan whose arrangement with Bell Canada ended up looking less like a cellular contract, and more like a favour owed to a local Mafia Don. Staniaszek made the mistake of using his cellular as a modem to download movies. Mind you, the multitude of megabytes comprising such a movie are the same whether transmitted over the internet, over satellite, or over a cellular connection – there is no actual premium on the cost of transmission. However while the difference in real cost of such a data transfer is non-existent, the rates charged by telecoms for said transfer are a different beast altogether. Staniaszek was saddled with a bill in excess of $80,000 CDN and his carrier did nothing to inform him of his ballooning charges.

His is hardly the only tale of its kind. In Denver, Colorado, young Dena Christoffersen did what most teenage girls do: let her thumbs do the talking. While her output of text messages was more prodigious than the average teen, her family was shocked when their next bill arrived: $4,756 USD.

In Portland, Oregon a family was slammed with a bill close to $20,000 USD. Their great sin before the almighty telecoms was to take advantage of their phone’s connectivity outside their roaming area. The Terry family’s son travelled from Portland to Vancouver, and uploaded vacation photos – a few hundred kilobytes each, for a total of 21 images – via his phone.

Data simply doesn’t cost this much to transfer. It doesn’t. Period.

But what if the charge isn’t a shocking, inflated figure? What if for every accidental slip of the finger, you were nickel-and-dimed for connection fees? This is exactly what happens to mobile customers who request that their internet functionality be disabled. Such a request is generally made verbally, at the mobile carrier’s outlet or store. But the store doesn’t actually disable that functionality – in most cases, it actually merely removes the service from the phone as a subscription-based model, and replaces it with a per-access charge. Now, every time you accidentally thumb that internet button, you are charged a fee of a few pennies. The justification for that fee? In your clumsy, mistaken attempt to access the internet, you downloaded a few kilobytes – those precious, prrrrrrrrecioussssss kilobytes – and that will cost you. If you have a problem with it, you could theoretically take it up with the fellow at the carrier outlet… which is when you’ll be reminded that a verbal agreement is not the same thing as a contract, and that you should have known (perhaps through some form of telepathy) that when you asked for your internet service to be disabled, you were in fact asking for your internet service to cost magnitudes more.

Let me put it into focus. $4,756 is a college education – not a cellphone bill. $20,000 is a new car – not a cellphone bill. $80,000 is an apartment – not a cellphone bill. For a telecom company to charge these exorbitant rates for data transfer that costs pennies, or to victimize their subscribers with hidden fees is immoral, parasitic, and downright criminal.

This story originally appeared in the Sheridan Sun.

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Written by tomczerniawski

March 14, 2010 at 12:17 pm

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