“Wireless providers have every reason to fear the skeptic, for outrageous data charges can rarely survive in the face of doubt”
June 29, 2009 11:26 AM   Subscribe

asavage's Twitter message solves $11,000 cross-Canada phone bill. Adam Savage, the co-host of the popular TV show MythBusters, has solved the problem of the unfathomable $11,000 cellphone bill he got while travelling Canada by turning to Twitter.

“A lot of people on Twitter are saying, ’Well it’s great that it worked for you, because you’ve got 50,000 followers, but what about the rest of us?’ ”... “I think in 10 years, when Internet is basically like electricity and everyone has it, we’re going to laugh about the fact that we’re paying a penny a kilobyte to check our e-mails in Canada,” Savage said.
posted by KokuRyu (40 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: I <3 Adam and, uh, not-<3 stupid data fee stuff, but there's not really a lot of post here, is there? -- cortex



 
In 10 years everyone's going to have electricity? That seems optimistic.
posted by sleevener at 11:31 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


0.015 cents =/= 0.015 dollars
posted by jock@law at 11:32 AM on June 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


So you gonna stick with the death star, asavage?
posted by boo_radley at 11:33 AM on June 29, 2009


I'm not sure that involving the public through Twitter really 'solved the problem' of his bill - the article states that AT&T dropped the charges, which is more of a 'oh noes, the internets say asavage is important and we should back off and grab the next sucker for $11,000!'
posted by Lizc at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


The optimism is cute. It really is.

Meanwhile, the big telcos are working on ever newer and better ways to nickel-and-dime their customers to death. Their bought-and-paid-for surrogates in government will ensure that no real competition ever threatens their cash flow, and no regulation ever forces them to actually deliver the services they promise. The only thing he'll be laughing about in 10 years is the naivete that led him to think that data services in North America would ever be priced fairly.
posted by Potsy at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


If anyone could get an on-the-record comment from AT&T on this issue, it's Savage. Please, Adam, don't just drop this.
posted by mediareport at 11:37 AM on June 29, 2009


I highly doubt the big telcos want to "nickel-and-dime their customers to death."

Who then would they nickel and dime?
posted by crickets at 11:37 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, one hand-wave of corporate favors doesn't help the overall problem.

This isn't some Canadian-specific phenomenon. Cell companies are Evil All Over. The same problem applies to Canadians or Europeans traveling in America, for example.

(I have a houseguest with a Canadian-carrier iPhone that is half-useless because it'll mortgage her to use it fully while in the US.)

Mobile providers use old "roaming" paradigms for modern data, complete with outrageous tariffs, because we let them.
posted by rokusan at 11:38 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


(*American-specific, rather. I got my US of NA all confuzzled.)
posted by rokusan at 11:39 AM on June 29, 2009


Hopefully, as more and more people are able to check their email on remote devices, we'll see the end of the special category of "text message" that magically costs a gazillion times more per byte to transfer. At the moment, with most phones still email-incapable, it's yet another instance of rich people paying less for the same thing than poor people.
posted by gurple at 11:41 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Indeed. If MetaFilter's own Adam Savage had been, say, MetaFilter's own (insert your favorite MeFite here), that person would still most likely be on the hook for $11K. Celebrity + Bad Publicity = Get Out Of Jail Free every single time, whether Twitter is involved or not.
posted by briank at 11:41 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


My son just dumped his iPhone for a Blackberry in prep for an 8 month shoot in Vancouver... last time he was there ATT hit him for about $1,800 a month for cell charges....
posted by HuronBob at 11:42 AM on June 29, 2009


We headed over to Canada over the weekend. $15/MB for data. Unbelievable that telecoms can get away with this kind of robbery.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:43 AM on June 29, 2009


I took an Economics class in college. I didn't get a lot out of it, but one thing I did get is that it's not smart to price based on your costs. Price based on what the market will bear. In this case, the market will clearly bear 20 cents per message.
posted by Plutor at 11:44 AM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


This isn't some Canadian-specific phenomenon. Cell companies are Evil All Over. The same problem applies to Canadians or Europeans traveling in America, for example. (I have a houseguest with a Canadian-carrier iPhone that is half-useless because it'll mortgage her to use it fully while in the US.)

I similarly had a houseguest from Edmonton last week -- he couldn't even fully use his cell phone because he said the roaming fees for calls would have been exorbitant. Strangely, texting cost the same for him in the U.S. as it did in Canada -- so he texted everyone while he was here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on June 29, 2009


At no point does the story linked to explain how the $11,000 bill was arrived at. Was it a genuine mistake or a figure correctly arrived at by unreasonably exorbitant roaming charges? That's kind of a key question here.
posted by motty at 11:48 AM on June 29, 2009


The way I heard it went down is that Adam Savage drove all the way to the AT&T headquarters and he confronted the guy who had been harrassing him, Dean Trumbell, and they yelled at each other for a while, and then Adam threatened him, and they cursed at each other, and then Adam said "I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine." And Dean was chagrined. And then Adam left and played a harmonium for a while.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:51 AM on June 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Plutor: "I took an Economics class in college. I didn't get a lot out of it, but one thing I did get is that it's not smart to price based on your costs. Price based on what the market will bear. In this case, the market will clearly bear 20 cents per message."

Well, the Econ 101 theory is that as a producer, you want to price based on what the market will bear; but in a competitive market, you will only be able to price based on costs. I.e. in a competitive market, to a single producer, it will seem as though the market will only bear slightly over costs.

That the costs/price spread is so large for a service like text messaging makes clear what everyone already knows: there's no effective competition in the market for cellular data services.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:53 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


For those who missed it the first time: The Verizon Math.

The "original audio recording" belongs in the Customer Service hall of fame.

You will cringe.
posted by rokusan at 11:54 AM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


I took an Economics class in college. I didn't get a lot out of it, but one thing I did get is that it's not smart to price based on your costs. Price based on what the market will bear. In this case, the market will clearly bear 20 cents per message.

That's only the case if there's actual competition based on the quality of service. If you can lure your customers in with exclusive hardware deals and trap them with long term contracts, you can charge whatever you want, within certain limits. It helps if you only have two real competitors, since you can collude on pricing (ssh that's illegal don't tell anyone)

I wish economics classes taught less about the ideal "free market" and more about how it works in the real world. Monopolies can't just set arbitrary prices or people would just abstain or be unable to afford your service, so how do you judge the most you can charge to maximize revenue?
posted by heathkit at 11:54 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to work customer service for Verizon Wireless and wound up with about one case similar to this one per week - it didn't always reach 10k+ and it was never Adam Savage on the phone, but it was just one instance after another of people getting stung with massive bills due to misunderstanding the murky data service terms they'd signed to. At first, I chalked it up to customer laziness, but it happened too often to explain with a rash of accidents. On some level, these "misunderstandings" were clearly part of Verizon's business plan.

My favorite incident? A day when some poor bastard who was sure he played by all the rules got saddled with a massive overage bill on his "unlimited" data plan. Turns out "unlimited" means nothing of the sort - I forget the ceiling Verizon attached to that service, but basically their "unlimited" plan simply means "overages kick in past a certain point of data transferred which we assume very few people will ever reach." I went ahead and escalated that call to a manager - they sure as shit weren't paying me enough to put my headset back on and to explain to this poor schmuck that Verizon had out-and-out lied to him.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:55 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


i had a similar experience with comcast. my wife tweeted some of the difficulties we were having with our internet connection, and how comcast wasn't fixing it. a few minutes later she got a message from some comcast twit who wanted to help us. apparently comcast has a team of people monitoring social web services for mentions of their company.
posted by lester at 11:55 AM on June 29, 2009


I'm not sure that involving the public through Twitter really 'solved the problem' of his bill - the article states that AT&T dropped the charges, which is more along the lines of "oh no, bad publicity." Adam Savage has a large following, who in turn have their own circles of friends. Outrage at Big Corporations can spread pretty quickly, and given enough of a head start (for instance, telling 50,000 friends at once), Big Corporation can't spin it down fast enough. Instead, they make an awkward little laugh, and say "sorry, our mistake." They look a lot more reasonable, and people keep on paying $0.20 per text (unless you have a $5 per line unlimited texting plan, which still costs you $60 per line per year, just to send text messages and pictures).

It's not being nickeled and dimed to death, just to the point of giving up the will to fight.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:56 AM on June 29, 2009


Do we really need a reminder that Adam Savage has an account on Metafilter every time there's a story about him or Mythbusters? Dude hasn't even commented since January.
posted by exhilaration at 12:02 PM on June 29, 2009


Of course there is the nuclear option: turning off the cell phone.
posted by Xoebe at 12:03 PM on June 29, 2009


Plutor: I took an Economics class in college. I didn't get a lot out of it, but one thing I did get is that it's not smart to price based on your costs. Price based on what the market will bear.

That only works as long as you don't have any competitors, which is the root of the problem here. Fortunately there will be some new options in Canada soon. Hopefully it will have the same effect as when Sprint entered the home phone market in the 90s, breaking Bell's monopoly, and causing long-distance rates to plummet.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:04 PM on June 29, 2009


motty: At no point does the story linked to explain how the $11,000 bill was arrived at. Was it a genuine mistake or a figure correctly arrived at by unreasonably exorbitant roaming charges? That's kind of a key question here.

data is charged at .015 cents, or a penny and a half, per kb [via]
posted by jock@law at 12:06 PM on June 29, 2009


exhilaration: I'm no celebrity fawner myself, but in fairness see a FPP and five comments for Savage's acct just this month.
posted by aught at 12:08 PM on June 29, 2009


Do we really need a reminder that Adam Savage has an account on Metafilter every time there's a story about him or Mythbusters? Dude hasn't even commented since January.

June 22, actually. Does he have to have commented this week to count as a MeFi user in your book?
posted by explosion at 12:10 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


i had a similar experience with comcast. my wife tweeted some of the difficulties we were having with our internet connection, and how comcast wasn't fixing it. a few minutes later she got a message from some comcast twit who wanted to help us. apparently comcast has a team of people monitoring social web services for mentions of their company.

Ditto for me with BT. Creeped me out for about half a second that BT was suddenly following me twitter but then I realized they can monitor anything I do online anyway.
posted by srboisvert at 12:11 PM on June 29, 2009


I'd pay for the data plan if it meant getting Canadian health insurance as well. Hell, I'd pay double.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Truly, he is the son of God...of wireless fees.

"If MetaFilter's own Adam Savage had been, say, MetaFilter's own (insert your favorite MeFite here), that person would still most likely be on the hook..."

Said so himself - "But for crying out loud, it shouldn’t only be when bad press is looming its head.”
But ok, maybe not the messiah, perhaps the Sanjuro of wireless fees. Without the, y'know, fountains of pressurized blood exploding from people's midsections.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:19 PM on June 29, 2009


I tweeted all kinds of nasty but true shit about AT&T, including live updates from my small claims case against them, all AT&T did was call me a liar. Fucking shitty company.
posted by exogenous at 12:20 PM on June 29, 2009


This isn't some Canadian-specific phenomenon

A lack of competition compared to the U.S. has allowed Canadian carriers to maintain much higher fees and reap record profits. However, I think it's safe to say that no matter where you go, foreign roaming charges will ream you cross-eyed, the only difference being monior variations in the girth and length of the reamer.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:20 PM on June 29, 2009


monior == minor except fancier
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:21 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


thanks for the help, famous guy. It really helps when a famous person speaks up because more people tend to listen.

so that's why at&t is allowed to continue diverting all customer information to the NSA without a warrant since 2001...because no celebs have spoken out against it? I have to say, a 'Celebritocracy' is about the scariest type of government I can conceive.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:22 PM on June 29, 2009


Xoebe: Of course there is the nuclear option: turning off canceling the cell phone.

5 minutes on google is all it takes to tell you how crooked these companies are; even if you fight your data rate down you're still sending them a check every month

I know they charge some huge fees to cancel the plan, but if they pulled this shit on me, I absolutely wouldn't renew my plan at the end of the year. In fact, this is exactly why I don't have a cell phone.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:23 PM on June 29, 2009


At no point does the story linked to explain how the $11,000 bill was arrived at. Was it a genuine mistake or a figure correctly arrived at by unreasonably exorbitant roaming charges? That's kind of a key question here.

I don't think that question was adressed at all, at any point.

This isn't "Adam Savage turns to twitter to find out why he was charged $11k in cell phone charges". This is more "Internet celebrity gripes about verizon on twitter, thousands of fans sympathize and say they now hate verizon, company decides to remove the charges because of the bad publicity".

Would never happen to any of us, unfortunately.

What's worse, asavage didn't even try AskMe.
posted by splice at 12:25 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


On some level, these "misunderstandings" were clearly part of Verizon's business plan.

That reminded me that there's a book about this very topic called Gotcha Capitalism. Deceiving your customers can be a very profitable business plan.
posted by heathkit at 12:25 PM on June 29, 2009


The Canadian circumstance is particularly bad; we have a population too small to support serious domestic competition, and also strict rules on foreign ownership.

Why are Canadian banks the strongest in the world? Because they have a captive market (read: cows for the milking) of thirty million people walled off from any serious outside competition. I don't see a way out of the bind; I support the rules on domestic ownership for 'social-infrastructure' companies like banks and telcos, but the downside sucks.

Hopefully Globalive will succeed where a legion of other competitors have failed.
posted by sixswitch at 12:26 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


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