What’s 10,241,704.22kb between ex-friends?

[Later, on 1 October 2009... This matter has been resolved. The charge for going over has been dropped, the service restored and good will along with it. Thanks to both @sprintcares and the chat person at My Sprint.]

So I just got a “courtesy call” from Sprint, a company I’ve been talking up for a couple years because I’ve had nothing but positive experience with my Sprint EvDO data card.

Well, that’s over. The call was to inform me that I’d gone over the 5Gb monthly usage limit for my data card, to the tune of 10,241,704.22kb, for which I was to be charged $500, on top of my $59.99 (plus $1.24 tax) monthly charge.

I didn’t know about the 5Gb limit. (In fact, I believed Sprint had an unlimited data plan, which is one reason I used them.) Kent German in CNET explains why in Sprint to limit data usaga on Everything plans. He begins,

When is unlimited not unlimited? Apparently when it comes from Sprint. Though the carrier has been very active about touting its new “simply everything” plan, which includes unlimited mobile Internet and messaging, it plans to place a cap on monthly data usage next month. Sprint will limit its simply everything customers to 5GB of data usage per month, plus 300MB per month for off-network data roaming.

A Sprint representative told BetaNews that the cap is needed to ensure a great customer experience.

O ya. By “great” they must mean bill size. Kent continues,

“The use of voice and data roaming by a small minority of customers is generating a disproportionately large level of operating expense for the company,” the representative said. “This limit is well within the range of what a typical customer would normally use each month.”…

BetaNews said Sprint began notifying customers in monthly bills that were mailed this week. The change will go into effect 30 days after customers receive the note. Also, the carrier said it will call customers next month to make sure they’re aware of the changes.

Well, I don’t read my bills. They go to my bookkeeper, who pays them and tosses whatever BS comes along inside the envelopes. I also don’t have a Sprint phone, or phone number. Maybe that’s why I never got that call.

Why did I go over? Possibly because I had little or no reliable landline (cable) Internet connectivity at my house in Santa Barbara for weeks after I got back there in June. I wrote about that here, here, here, here and here. So I used my Sprint datacard a lot. In fact it was something of a life-saver.

Earth to Sprint: that “small minority of customers” is the future of your company. You should invest in them, and in your relationships with them.

The Sprint person on the “courtesy call” knocked $350 off the bill. That was because she was ready to “work” with me on the matter. I asked her how she arrived at that number. She said she couldn’t say.

I hope they work zero in to their future calculations. Because that’s what they’re getting from me as soon as I find a better deal elsewhere.

I’m not sure how to price the good will they’ve lost. In fact, I’m not sure that has a price.

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37 comments

  1. John Davey’s avatar

    Doc,

    I had a less painful experience with Sprint, which compelled me to become a T-Mobile customer. Briefly documented here http://starkravinglove.com/wp/?p=22

    In short, they wouldn’t do anything to assist a customer of many years, and now I’m no longer a customer…

  2. Karsten Wade’s avatar

    I find it interesting that all of the carriers I researched have the same 5 Gb cap for the same $60 cost. What a coincidence that they arrived at the same number after exhaustive research of their “typical customer” needs!

  3. judi’s avatar

    Thanks for the heads up. My 2 year contract on a SERO plan is up in November. I’m also a customer of over 10 years, but I’m off to find a new provider now. That changes my feelings for the Palm Pre too.

    Good thing I have time to reconsider all options.

  4. lewis’s avatar

    The trouble is, ALL the mobile carriers suck, all have exactly the same 5GB cap on their ‘unlimited’ data, and all seem to enjoy ass-reaming their customers on a regular basis. Google will find you this exact story for T-Mo, AT&T, and Verizon.

  5. corey’s avatar

    Doc,
    don’t move to Verizon. I got kicked off their “unlimited plan” also (I did 10 gig in one month). They canceled my account but didn’t charge me for overage.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I know AT&T has unlimited data on iPhones. Why would they have that deal, and not the same on data cards? Or do they have an unlimited data plan on data cards too? [Later...] Just got pointed to this. Sad.

    I’m pretty pissed right now, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick to my new policy of $0 for plans with low data caps. It’ll cost me more money to get out of the Sprint plan. I’m also not sure I want to pay $61.23/month for a convenience that forces me to watch a clock I can’t see.

  7. sam b’s avatar

    This is what’s scared the bejeziz out of me when researching wireless data plans. According to the stats on my Mac, I’d run over after about 2 days. I pull a lot of big files as a part of my job – so the dream of working from the camper will have to wait for the phone companies to come around. Or I’ll have to get a job with smaller file sizes.

    I haven’t found unlimited data at any price. Honestly, I’d be happy to pay $150/month for the service. (Er, my company would be happy to pay for it.)

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, Sam, you’re not the intended customer here. Neither am I. Clearly these data cards are meant to be used as occasional supplementary vehicles for light browsing and emailing. Not for serious continuous use by people who live and work on the road.

    At some point, however, the cell phone system will turn into a cell data system. When that happens, non-icky ways should be found to encourage sane and respectful use of a common resource. Until then, we’ll have to put up with old-fashioned phone company thinking and business mentality. It’s sad and discouraging.

  9. Todd’s avatar

    I’d looked into these services a while back, which is why I was surprised by the fact you were running on an unlimited plan when we talked about it. It is incredibly frustrating that there is a complete lack of unlimited plans. This is just another way that cell companies try to nail users with several-hundred-dollar ‘overage’ bills. They also have no incentive to provide better service, when the rates and plans are nearly identical from service to service. I’ve been leery of signing onto these services for exactly this reason — I’d spike through 5GB per month in less than a week. It’s particularly frustrating, because there are situations when I absolutely needed it. But I’m just not going to (have my company) shell out for the $500 bill several times a year.

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Todd, I went back over my notes from the call with the Sprint person. The peak usage dates weren’t when I was at home in California, but from June 28-July 2. That was when you and I were both in rural Maryland. As I recall it was hard to get the Sprint card to work well there, though it had some good moments. I have a feeling that there was some kind of usage/service match-up glitch in that time frame. In any case, it makes me even less interested in dealing with them. As my friends in the business explain, their primary service is billing. Not phone or Internet.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I just realized that offsite backup using Backblaze may also have been a culprit — ot because it moved a lot of bits upstream, but because high latencies and packet losses required much retransmission, which drove up the Kbit count.

    Doesn’t it suck that Sprint can tally usage down to the bit, but not bring into account the fact that much usage of cell line based data services will occasionally involve high latencies and packet losses that most customers will barely notice or monitor — and that are not the customer’s fault?

  12. P.A.’s avatar

    I find it really strange how in the U.S. there’s no consumer protection for this type of thing.

    In Brazil, unless it’s spelled out very clearly (and in big letters) in your contract, the company cannot charge you extra, and if they do (or interrupt the service) without this consequence being explicitly associated in the contract with a data usage limit, you only have to contact the Consumer Protection Agency to have the issue resolved and the company fined.

    Here in the U.S., I almost signed up to Verizon. The representative assured me that the plan was unlimited, but I checked in Google and found a page full of complaints of people who had the service cut off for overuse. When I mentioned to the representative why I was not taking the service (which, by the way, would be paid by my employer), he insisted that the plan was indeed unlimited, but he never contacted me again after I sent him the link to the complaints page.

  13. sam b’s avatar

    That’s funny & sad, PA. It is unlimited. You just get reamed after 5 gigs. Or cut off. Or both. In an unlimited fashion.

    So nice of Sprint to “work with you” Doc on the overages. I’ve had folks “work with me” in the same way over the years and it’s always a pleasure. Comcast recently, US Cellular a few years ago.

    I hope you’re right about the cell data system. I’ve got a great spot to get stuff done, but it’s fairly remote – which is why it’s such a great spot to work. (Still within Sprint’s coverage area.) I can’t wait for someone to come along and seize this opportunity. I’m assuming if you stumble across a good solution I’ll hear about it from your feed. ;)

  14. Karl Egas’s avatar

    I found some company that is offering unlimited data with Sprint service read below

    Millenicom has moved forward with implementing an unlimited account for $69.99/month. If you are interested in this modification to your account please submit the form from the following link: »www.millenicom.com/unlimitedrequest.htm

    Some of our users have found the following software helpful in tracking their data usage: http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/win/138586

  15. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Well, I think we’ll all agree that there have to be SOME limits…. These companies paid millions for tiny slivers of spectrum (some only 5 MHz wide) and can’t afford to have them monopolized by someone paying them only $30 per month. My own ISP has only the unlicensed spectrum that it can manage to use despite growing interference… and simply CANNOT get more.

    The question is, how to communicate limits? Many ISPs quickly discover that their customers have changed e-mail addresses and/or phone numbers but did not notify them, leaving no easy method of contact. And Heaven forbid that an ISP should do something like insert a friendly message at the top of the user’s browser window! (I remember the screams from network purists when Rogers Cable, a Canadian company did this.) So, the only method is really the bill… if in fact the company still does paper billing at all.

    As for one user’s question about how to get “unlimited” data: it’s not possible for ANYONE to supply you with that. Bandwidth costs money. A lot of it in rural areas such as the one where I am doing business as an ISP. There’s no way we can stay solvent without limits. We try to make those limits as invisible as possible, but still get complaints from users who want to leave the stream on 24 hours a day (even high quality audio streams from sources such as Pandora take a very heavy toll) and find that they cannot do it. It’s not our fault; we have to pay OUR bills, too. Perhaps if customers were more considerate and didn’t want to consume infinite amounts of expensive resources for nothing?

  16. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett, I think you’re right about notification. I also think there’s got to be a better way to help users moderate usage than the way (apparently) all the cell carriers are doing it. Their marketing and usage policies (especially in Sprint’s case, where they do pitch “unlimited”) are way out of alignment.

    FWIW, Sprint definitely had my phone number and email address.

  17. Norcross’s avatar

    I’ve also got a Spring data card, but I knew about the cap when I got it. It also shows me when I log into the site to pay my bill how close I am to that 5gb limit. Does it suck that I don’t have true “unlimited” bandwidth? Sure it does. And many of the home broadband providers are trying to institute the same caps.

    All the mobile cards I looked at did a cap. They cap the phone data, too, but it would be very hard on most phones to hit that 5gb limit. Should they have kept racking up the overages? No. Should they have at least called you and said something? Yes. But then again, you said that you don’t even look at the bill, that a bookkeeper takes care of it. Maybe it’s time to go over some of your contracts to see what you’re really getting. Ignorance is no excuse.

  18. Andreas’s avatar

    Now that’s a shame. I was one week away from signing up 27 phone numbers and data plans for my employees out in the field. 28 if I include my own plan. Knowing that the mobile world is full of traps, I would probably have found out about this new definition of “unlimited” – but I could have accepted it since 5gb is indeed enough for most of the time. But I believe in business ethics, and this is simply not acceptable. I’m going elsewhere, and I thank you for sharing your story.

    The least I can do, even though Sprint doesn’t give a f:ck about losing 27 new customers, is to tell the world why I will not recommend Sprint to anyone again. I won’t, because “unlimited” is a powerful word that becomes poison if it is abused.

  19. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Maybe Sprint should have sent you an SMS message when you were getting close to the quota?

  20. Brian Dunbar’s avatar

    Getting laid off from Sprint was a dark, dark day in my life.

    Reading about practices like this have made it a lot easier to take. You think it’s tough dealing with them as a customer, imagine what it’s like inside the walls.

  21. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett, an SMS would have made sense. I used to get those from Verizon when I was their phone customer. The thing is, as I look more carefully at what was going down, and where, is that I’m sure I got billed for lots of packet re-sends losses were high. Not sure how to address that. I am sure that it’s something that customers and carriers can trouble-shoot together — as I ended up doing with Cox in Santa Barbara. In fact, I think that’s what needs to be done in a category that’s new, growing, and feeling pains. More eyeballs could make bugs shallower.

  22. Chip’s avatar

    Doc
    Some years ago, with daughter on my account – got $1K plus overcharge

    Customer Service (misnomer) couldn’t fix

    Collections/Bad Accounts did fix

    Sorted out and I left

    Working on “next gen” wireless here – free (muni system) wifi/fiber mix (rural broadband)

  23. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brian, a number of people have told me that Sprint is the best of a bad breed. And that it, at least, gives some attention to data customers. I dunno. My experience with AT&T — in spite of being a customer with a 2-iPhone family plan — was awful, when I (not we) tried to get a data card running. The card screwed terribly with my laptop, and could only be made to run with AT&T’s own extremely lame software application. No plain old device drivers available (as there are for the Sprint card, which plugs and plays without a separate app — although Sprint would like you to use that, too, it seems, via its USB cards rather than its ExpressCard units, like the one I have).

  24. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Karl, I filled out the Millenicom form. We’ll see how it goes. I’d gladly pay $10 more per month for unlimited use. Not because I’d abuse the privilege, but because I don’t want to worry about getting clobbered without warning if I go over a limit.

  25. Ethan’s avatar

    I am working our of San Diego using my AT&T wireless USB device. I am sitting at 4GB for the month and watching closely. I pay $60/month for 5GB, at .00048 cents per KB (hey that doesn’t sound like much right?)…the next 5GB would cost me $2516 at that rate.

    That makes no sense. $100 might make sense. I am sure that would keep most people from using too much bandwidth. $200 for the next 5GB would be punitive enough, but $2500 dollars! Please. There must be plenty of folks who pay these outrageous fines and AT&T makes more money from the fines than from the loss of customers.

  26. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Ethan, I couldn’t agree more. The cell carriers must be having an inner war between those who want to grow the business and those who want to milk customers at all costs. Right the latter are winning. And that’s costing them at least one customer.

  27. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Doc, I doubt that you were billed for re-sent packets; any reasonable metering system will be closer to the core of the network and won’t see them. But people often don’t realize just how much overhead TCP/IP has, or how much traffic a supposedly idle computer generates. Especially when Windows, virus checkers, accounting software (e.g. Quicken), and other programs spontaneously (and irresponsibly, IMHP do updates as large as a gigabyte without warning.

    I remember, back in the days of dialup, when there were utilities for developers that heavily compressed software updates. The big guys don’t bother with those now. Nor do Web developers think about the size of their pages….

  28. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Doc, I doubt that you were billed for re-sent packets; any reasonable metering system will be closer to the core of the network and won’t see them. But people often don’t realize just how much overhead TCP/IP has, or how much traffic a supposedly idle computer generates. Especially when Windows, virus checkers, accounting software (e.g. Quicken), and other programs spontaneously (and irresponsibly, IMHO) do updates as large as a gigabyte without warning.

    I remember, back in the days of dialup, when there were utilities for developers that heavily compressed software updates. The big guys don’t bother with those now. Nor do Web developers think about the size of their pages….

  29. Anonymugs’s avatar

    The real question here is why Sprint won’t sell you the next 5 GB of data for the same price as they sold you the first 5 GB!

  30. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Since this saga has come up in recent conversations, I should add that I don’t believe it was ever established that I *did* go over. My contact at Sprint did say he looked back over the history of my use and saw that this spike was way out of normal usage patterns.

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