Who's a Bandwidth Bandit?
I've spent the past few days talking to call center experts for an upcoming story and a standard refrain I keep hearing is that oftentimes, the things that drive consumers crazy the most are not the call center's fault, but bad practices by the company.
David T. of Annandale, among others, appears to have stumbled across a case in point.
About a year ago, he signed up for Verizon Wireless's "unlimited high-speed wireless Internet access" for $60 per month.
Then, a month ago, David, a computer consultant who used the service to assist his database clients, was kicked off. When he called Verizon Wireless, he was transferred to the security department, which told him his account had been "permanently terminated" because he had used more than 166 megabytes per day.
"You abused and damaged our network," he was told.
Security had inferred, from the amount of bandwidth David had consumed, that he was using the service "for a prohibited activity," as in downloading music and movies or watching pornography, cut him off and charged him a $175 early termination fee.
After several calls to Verizon Wireless, David learned what others, including other consumer bloggers found out through personal experience: The "unlimited" service is limited to 5 gigabytes per month or 166 megabytes per day.
Verizon Wireless' unlimited broadband access service is "unlimited for specific kinds of data uses," spokesman John Johnson said. "Any customer using the service FOR the allowed uses only, won't be terminated."
David T. said not so in his case. He used the service for "e-mail and [to] remotely access several of the company systems, as well as control customer computers by remote control." All allowed uses.
When asked how Verizon Wireless came up with the 5G limit, Johnson replied the limits are based on "the type of application...not on size -- though bandwidth use significantly above an average customer's use...is a good flag to determine unauthorized uses."
Johnson said the terms and conditions of the service have always been there for all to see in advertising and marketing materials. To make his point, he sent along a newspaper ad.
The ad is telling in that in medium-sized red type it offers "unlimited broadband access," followed by smaller red type that reads, "for Internet browsing, e-mail and Intranet access." The caveat, "If more than 5G/line/month, we presume use is for non-permitted uses and will terminate service," appears at the very bottom in fine print, below the image of an award from J.D. Power & Associates for "highest in customer satisfaction with business wireless service."
This appears to be a case of "mouse print" -- the legalese in microscopic font that appears in contracts and ads and is muttered at barely intelligible speed in commercials. If the fine print were magnified, it would be clear that Verizon Wireless' definition of "Internet browsing" doesn't jive with the way people use the Internet in the 21st century. An excerpt of the contract Johnson provided expressly forbids streaming of videos, downloading of music, videos or games, hosting broadcasts or Internet phone use. The presumption is that downloading music, for instance, is always illegal. (Guess that makes Steve Jobs a pirate.)
Sound like a case of consumer beware to you, or, as the call center folks put it, a bad company practice?
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