Simply shocking

Tony Poulos
17 Jun 2010

Telecom service providers must be wondering why they spend millions in marketing to attract customers when one case of "bill shock" manages to escalate them to notoriety worldwide for nothing! Sadly, it's not the type of message they are hoping for.

When bill shock stories hit the headlines journalists and readers tend to side with the "victim" because they feel the same could easily happen to them. Many even get the feeling that operators are setting traps on purpose to earn extra revenue at their expense. It makes no difference that the billing is accurate; it is simply perceived as grossly unfair that someone gets a large bill.

In fact, in the majority of bill shock stories there is no error in the billing process but an error in the customer usage process. The advent of the iPhone, the USB dongle and smartphones is driving the use of data services through the roof, but customers regularly make assumptions or fail to read the fine print that leads to over usage, intentional or otherwise.

It's easy to assume that when you buy an all-you-can-eat data package from your service provider that you can use it as much as you like. Sure, but there may be in place fair usage terms and roaming surcharges.

The excuses for over-usage range from the sublime to the ridiculous. It's becoming evident the smartphones are getting smarter than their owners. The stories that are appearing are almost surreal.

A South Australian MP had a $10,000 bill on his taxpayer-funded phone account after his son downloaded football games, without his knowledge. He did not understand that, while the smartphone had the capacity to download the applications, his phone plan did not.

The MP couldn't believe somebody could be charged $4,000 for playing a game online for one hour. "It sounds mind-boggling" he is quoted as saying. Yes, Mr MP, you are absolutely correct, and why would any operator allow a bill, normally around $200 per month, to reach such a gargantuan total? At the very least, you would expected the fraud management system to set off alarm bells at such a high and abnormal usage pattern.

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