In October I took a trip to the US Midwest for Internet Research 10. I had heard horror stories from friends and the internets about surprise $3000+ roaming bills. So, of course, checked to make sure my data roaming on my iPhone was set to off (you know, that setting where it clearly says “turn this off to avoid substantial roaming fees”) as I got on the plane and stashed my phone, not even wanting to use it to make calls that would cost me almost $2 a minute. But you know how this story ends.
Even though I had data roaming set to off and even though I didn’t check my email or use Google maps or do anything else that would’ve been super helpful on my trip in an unfamiliar city, I got charged over $300 for data roaming by Fido on behalf of AT&T. I explained that, as he could see from my call record, I didn’t use my phone at all during the trip (not even for calls) and half the time the battery was dead. Some of the data charges were even at 1am (while I was sleeping!) The customer service guy said that turning data roaming off wasn’t enough and I had to turn 3G off as well and “that this was a well known fact.” (In reality, it’s total BS). I asked that they do an investigation and find out exactly what I was supposedly downloading, but he told me that this was not possible. So, I was basically being charged $300 for a service without my consent or knowledge, without any ability to see how this actually happened. The kicker is that in total, the $300 charge was for only about 50 megs of data use. Think about how ridiculous that is.
Anyway, after about 45 minutes of arguing and going back and forth with the customer service guy’s supervisor (who also agreed it was my fault for not turning of 3G), I was offered a 50% refund. I said I was not going to pay any amount for a service I didn’t use and asked to speak to the supervisor. I was put on hold for another 10 minutes, and was then informed I would be called back later.
Twitter-enabled public shaming
12 hours later, and I still haven’t heard back from anyone at Fido, so I decide to do some research (with the help of the awesome folks on the HacklabTO mailing list, my local hacker collective) and start posting on Twitter. After my first post, to my surprise, a Fido rep starts messaging me from a group Fido account (@fidomobile) on and then individually (@rogersmary) follows my account. By this point, a few people are retweeting my post and I decide to tell CBC radio’s Spark (@sparkcbc). I also write a message to @rogersmary about a story in the LA Times about the same situation happening to a bunch of other people. About an hour later, I get a call from Asja Asanovic at the “Office of the President” at Fido. She is very apologetic and nice and helpful and reverses all the charges, and says she will “start an investigation with Apple.” But, as far as preventing this from happening again, she has no suggestions. I can either turn off the internet entirely (which defeats the purpose of having an iPhone) turn off voice AND data roaming entirely (making my phone useless outside of Toronto) or just leave my phone in Canada when I travel. Three completely ridiculous “solutions” for an iPhone user.
I’m happy it’s resolved, but I am very unhappy at how much time/stress Fido/Apple’s mistake cost me. I’m also very disappointed that I didn’t have my issue fixed right away when I first called Fido. Instead, Fido only treated me reasonably after I publicly shamed them on Twitter. It is wrong that I get better service from an unadvertised customer service rep on Twitter, rather than 1800 number provided on their site, and only because I made a big stink. How many other people have been screwed by this? Apparently a bunch.
So, what is the main takeaway from my lil adventure?
1.) Data roaming charges completely unfair and do not reflect their actual cost (how can the CRTC allow telecoms to charge us up to $30, 000.00 per Gb?)
3.) Sadly, the strategic use of social media (and your local hacker collective) is the only real way of getting proper, reasonable service from Canada’s ridiculous wireless oligopoly.