O2, the mobile operator recently bought by Telefónica, has agreed to give a refund to a customer who was charged over £300 for three days use of his mobile phone while in Austria. O2 will also replace "what might be a faulty handset", an XDA II, for free.
Robert Machin was working for an Irish telecom services company in Ireland last year when he went on holiday to Austria. "I had to work for three days and while I was attending meetings in the quiet moments, I caught up with some emails," he told ZDNet UK. "I knew it would be expensive to use my XDA but I did not think I would be charged £170 in one day for using it."
While he was in Austria, Machin says he had no idea how much he was being charged and only became aware when he was disconnected from his service.
When he complained to O2 about being cut off, Machin's service was restored. "It took someone in customer services over half an hour to find out why I had been cut off and to dig our the relevant facts and figures," said Machin. "But to be fair, he did get my service restored and raised a dispute against the data charged."
Machin says that he was angered by the situation "because no-one seemed to be prepared to take charge". Machin maintains that his previous bills for roaming had never been as high as the bill he faced after his holiday.
Machin was billed for the disputed amounts in January — £73.93, £171.22 and £61.80 for three consecutive days — and has been disputing them ever since.
After approaching ZDNet UK, Machin was told last week by O2 that they would look into the matter. O2 then contacted him to say that "the amount in dispute had been put into suspense" and that "pending resolution I should cancel my direct debit, pay the difference and reinstate my direct debit when the matter had been resolved".
An O2 technical specialist investigated the situation, and concluded that the cause of the data activity was "synchronisation between [Machin's] phone and the Google mail server".
According to Machin, Google Mail "wasn't set to synch at fixed intervals — only when I checked for new mail ".
As reported last year, it can be very expensive to access mobile data services abroad. Some mobile operators can charge up to £20 per megabyte, many times more than their domestic tariff.
Machin said that the specialist from O2 "agreed that the charge and the recorded data volume was completely disproportionate to the activity". For its part, O2 said that Machin's case was "a funny one".
O2 has now agreed to replace Machin's XDA II and waive the roaming charge, but it is still looking into the details of the case.
"He is a very good customer, so of course we will take his word for it and get the XDA in to take a look and what has happened — that's the only way to find out really," said an O2 spokesman.
According to O2, its records shows that 3MB of data was uploaded and 65MB was downloaded over the period in question.
O2's attitude to Machin's case contrasts sharply with that of Orange in similar circumstances. In November, ZDNet UK brought to light the case of UK businessman Roger Steare who came home from a holiday in France to find himself faced with an unexpected bill for £769.
After taking his case to adjudication under the Communications and Internet Adjudication Scheme, Steare lost after the adjudicator decided that "there was nothing improper in the actions by Orange".