Orange roaming rates claim another victim

Roaming Rip-Offs: Another Orange customer has come home to a staggeringly large bill after downloading a small amount of mobile data abroad

The extortionate cost of using mobile data services while abroad has caught out another Orange subscriber. This time, a solicitor in Manchester found herself faced with a £300 bill for checking out some movies while taking a break in France.

Joanne Lancaster has been an Orange customer since 1998 and at Christmas went on a snowboarding holiday in the French Alps. Finding her holiday fun cut short by a dose of the flu, Lancaster was soon bored and in need of entertainment.

She turned to her Orange mobile phone to amuse herself, but her problems started when she used the Orange World facility to check out some movies.

"All I did was spend a few minutes looking at film trailers," she told ZDNet UK, "and that cost me £303, I had no idea."

Lancaster has become the latest victim of the great roaming rip-off scandal, which was highlighted by the case of another Orange customer, Roger Steare, who found himself facing an unexpected bill for £769 when he returned from a European trip.

This is because the cost of using a mobile phone or a data card is massively more than using the same service on the same mobile in the UK, and because the mobile operators do not issue a warning or suspend the service when users rack up hefty charges.

Lancaster was charged £8 per megabyte, which is Orange's standard rate for using a mobile to download data while in another European country.

"I had expected it to be more expensive to use my mobile while I was in France, and it was, and that was fine," said Lancaster. "I didn't expect to get charged £300 just for checking out a few film clips." Her total bill was £473, of which the largest portion was the £303.55 for downloading 35.44MB of data. In the UK, accessing the same content would probably cost around £4.

Faced with the high cost of roaming with a mobile or data card, Ofcom's stance is to say that it does not want to interfere with an emerging market and that there are too few people using mobile data services in other countries for it to need to intervene.

"I have never used it before and I am never going to use it again," commented Lancaster on data roaming. She was also especially annoyed that she uses pre-pay for downloading and pre-pay for WAP services. "I had credit in both and they didn't use that. They just charged me the full amount."

Lancaster insists that she never had any warning on her phone that she was building up such a large bill, even though her monthly bill is more usually "between £50 and £70".

Lancaster says it was ironic that she had recently been contacted by Orange and had agreed to extend her contract by an extra six months. Now she has had to talk to them again. "I've asked if they will give me more time to pay the bill," she said, "and I am waiting to hear."

Orange had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.