A “lousy” marketing campaign saw Bell Mobility’s 1X network allow data downloads before customers were informed of potentially massive charges, said a woman now faced with a $600 phone bill.
“I was speaking with a person that actually works at NMI (Mobility) and he told me what a lousy job they did of rolling it out,” said the woman, who spoke to The News on condition of anonymity.
She fears the situation has led to scores of Whitehorse parents being faced with huge phone bills from their children’s cell downloads this month.
And she’s concerned that many parents will pay the bills, as they may not understand what a megabyte is, and that $51.20 is too much to pay for one.
“I can’t imagine how many parents are out there that are going to end up getting huge phone bills because all the kids are into it,” she said.
Bell’s 1X service was “live” and being tested days before the official launch on October 17, confirmed Bell officials at the event.
That meant eager Whitehorse customers could begin downloading before the marketing arms of Bell Mobility, NMI Mobility and Latitude Wireless were able to explain the enormous hidden fees slapped on those who fail to subscribe to a data plan, she said.
She is one of those eager downloaders now feeling the pinch.
“Basically it was live but still testing, so nobody was made aware,” she said.
“There was no informing of the customers; nobody knew it was coming ahead of time. It was just pushed into production, then hyped after the fact.”
Her son downloaded a game and two ring-tones; she downloaded one ring-tone and one game.
When her bill arrived it was for $600; her usual bill is for about $60, she said.
On Wednesday, The News spoke with another woman whose son had downloaded 27 megabytes of data on the 1X network, beginning four days before the official 1X launch.
Her bill, which has subsequently been waived by Bell, came to more than $1,275.
This woman, the latest Bell customer to come forward, said there was no warning on the phone explaining the large fees for bandwidth.
“When we went to download, it states, ‘Do you want to pay $3.50 for the ring-tone?,’” she said.
“But it didn’t say anything about having to pay like $52 a meg for data. It may have said ‘You will be charged a fee,’ but it doesn’t say what that fee is.
“If I had known about the unlimited package that they have, I totally would have signed up for that,” she said.
In fact she has signed up for the monthly $7 package that allows unlimited downloading, “now that we know it’s available,” she said. “But it would have been nice to know ahead of time.”
She plans to speak to Bell about waiving the $600 bill, she added.
The situation developing in Whitehorse has never happened in any other market in Canada, said Paolo Pasquini, spokesperson for Bell Canada.
A combination of factors seems to have led to the problem, he explained.
People with 1X capable phones were on “voice-only” plans in Whitehorse as that was all that was available in the past.
And the 1X service went up before the official launch.
“So people wanted to experience the 1X network, and when they did this, although there’s some pop-ups that come up, people have continued to go on, unknowing of the cost, and they are now getting large bills,” he said.
“We were intending when customers come to update their phone, at the point of sale, to notify them of that. I think the unfortunate incidents are folks that had capable phones.”
But Pasquini is adamant there are warnings built into the system, which explain how much data costs without being on a dedicated plan.
“When you select a song from the music store, when you select ‘download,’ you have pages that appear.
“You have a ‘confirm purchase’ page; it tells you the price is, say, $3 plus applicable browser charges.
“Every single time, if you’re not already on the (data) plan, it tells you that due to the large size of the file, that Bell Mobility strongly recommends that you purchase or subscribe to a $7 unlimited mobile browser bundle,” he said.
The option allows the user to call a Bell call centre and subscribe to the bundle or buy it on their phone.
And literature on the web page appearing on the phone, in “browser charge details” that explains the pay-per-use fee, he said.
“Every time that purchase decision was made, the warning information had to have been read, and an ‘accept download’ had to have been pressed,” he said.
Bell empathizes with customers and is examining billing issues on a case-by-case basis as a result of the mix-up, he added.
Those with bills far higher than in the past should call Bell, he said.
Technology critics have noted that Bell could easily bar people from accessing the internet on their phone until they buy the unlimited download bundle.
But that would block some from needed access, said Pasquini.
“It’s hard to speculate, but there are instances when people need to access information over a web browser on a phone that they have no intention of using again,” he said.
“It’s obviously not Bell’s intention to have our customers get impacted with invoices like this.”
However, the latest woman to come forward feels Bell was aware of the situation.
“I can see that it would be a really good business decision and not tell anybody, and then hope that 80 per cent of the people don’t complain about the bills,” she said.