Aid Worker in Haiti Racks up $35,000 Phone Bill With T-Mobile
In the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake, T-Mobile offered all American aid workers a temporary free voice plan, so that they could communicate without worrying about racking up significant charges. As Pierre understood it, the phone plan would allow her to use every feature of her phone with financial impunity. As CNN explains, however, the plan apparently applied only to voice calls -- not to the SMS and Facebook messages that Pierre sent to her worried family back in the States. The texts and messages soon piled up, and eventually culminated in the $35,000 bill that the aid worker found upon her arrival home.
"I would be OK to pay for it if everything was disclosed, and I knew upfront that, if I used this part of the service [data and texts], I would be charged," she says. "But I did not know." T-Mobile, for its part, insists that most customers in Haiti are well aware that the free plan pertains only to voice calls. The company did agree to cover part of Pierre's debt, although it still wants about $5,000 from her.
Hope for similarly befuddled cell-phone users, however, may be on the horizon. This week, the FCC is discussing new regulations to clamp down on the so-called "bill shock" that many customers experience due to hidden charges or unanticipated fees. Among the rules under consideration is one that would force cell-phone companies to alert customers whenever their bills escalate precipitously. This would allow users to limit Internet or text message use before things get out of hand.
This kind of transparency, of course, should always be welcomed in any market -- and especially one as notoriously opaque as the mobile-phone market. Sure, customers should also be expected to stay on top of their data plans, and familiarize themselves with the terms of their mobile contracts. But, sometimes, we all have more important things to worry about -- like saving lives in Haiti.