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Mobile data charges are simply insane

I've come to the conclusion that mobile data charges are simply insane.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

I've come to the conclusion that mobile data charges are simply insane.

My fight with UK provider Orange has come to an end. Due to some unknown technical hitch, an iPhone ended up hooked to a plan where data was being charged at £4/$6 per MB rather than the free 250MB bundle that the phone was supposed to receive for 12 months (funny how these technical hitches are always in favor of the big companies). This resulted in some insane charges being incurred whenever even tiny amounts of data were being moved. The iPhone was burning through money like a fire storm at a casino. A safety mechanism where users see their data capped at 25 MB per day for £2/$3 also didn't kick in because of an error in migrating an existing number over to the account.

Is there any logic behind these charges? Of course not! It makes no sense that one customer is being charged £2/$3 per MB when, for example, iPad users will only charged a fraction of that cost for the same megabyte. A megabyte is a megabyte ... unless you're a mobile provider!

After countless calls to customer services failed to get anything resolved, I eventually managed to get the issue escalated to executive office level. OK, that's great, but that kind of escalation isn't something that's available to everyone. If this has happened once, and it was such a mammoth effort to fix, I'm ready to believe that there are other people out there sucking up similar erroneous charges, either unaware of them or can't get the issue behind them resolved.

The problem is that mobile operators still want to dish out data bandwidth with an eye-dropper. Sure, there are some pretty decent data plans out there (and Apple has done a great job strong-arming the operators into offering far better deals than were once on offer), but there are also some stratospherically expensive plans out there too, especially for those who might not want that much data, or not need it on a regular basis. No matter how you cut it, handing over a few bucks for a megabyte is robbery, just without the gun and mask.

Data charges can send bills sky high in no time at all. Let me point you to the latest story involving excessively high data charges. Australian MP Russell Wortley. His son did a spot of downloading on his iPhone, grabbing some free soccer and AFL games, and in the process incurred charges of $9,500.

"I was absolutely staggered - my normal bill is less than $200 and I am still in shock at getting a bill for more than $10,000," he said. "There were huge sums being charged over relatively short periods, in one case $4000 for one hour and six minutes of use for a download, in another case $3000. My son had used the phone to download what were advertised as free sports games such as soccer and football, but because of the plan we were on Telstra charged for the downloads.

As someone who spends a fair bit of time working as a consumer advocate, I have one question - why is it possible for anyone to run up such a colossal bill in the first place? No phone call? No text message? There's no way that someone's handset should be able to rack up thousands of dollars worth of charges without the user being in control. The fact that there's no automatic cap in place on charges is highly irresponsible.

As we shift from slow dial-up to fast broadband internet access, the humble megabyte really isn't that much data. Kids are especially ignorant, bought up on the firehose of what is essentially for most uncapped, unmetered internet access. If I were paying for my broadband at the rate of $2 per MB, my bill for today alone would be well over $2,000.

Shape up cellphone providers, time to realize this is the 21st century and that drip-feeding customers data by the megabyte is archaic and irrelevant and should go the same way as the dinosaur and the floppy disk.

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