AT&T accused of systematically overbilling data usage
It’s simple enough to verify the cell phone minutes you’ve used each month, but what about your data usage? This is the question on our minds after we found out about the latest lawsuit that AT&T is facing.
AT&T is being accused of systematically overstating data charges and incorrectly logging the time of data connections. Patrick Hendricks, an AT&T iPhone user, hired an independent consulting firm to investigate AT&T’s billing practices.
For those who aren’t familiar with data usage on phones, the firm likens the situation to a car and a gas pump. This CNET article (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20030151-94.html) explains that AT&T’s data billing system “is like a rigged gas pump that charges for a full gallon when it pumps only nine-tenths of a gallon into your car’s tank.” In one instance the consulting firm found a 50KB website that was logged as a 53.5KB website according to AT&T’s billing system. If you’re on a limited data plan, those little overtures can add up to big charges at the end of the month.
Or worse, you could be charged for data connections that you couldn’t possibly have initiated. In another experiment, a consultant experienced “phantom data transactions.” He bought a new phone, turned off all services, and was still billed for 35 data transactions equaling 2,292 KB of data. CNET likens this to a “rigged gas pump charging you when you never even pulled your car into the station.”
This lawsuit raises an issue that we at UCAN are very concerned about: what resources do customers have to independently track their data usage? It’s difficult to fudge minutes used, but data usage is a different ball game. You can request an itemized bill, but that still only tells you what AT&T judges your data usage to be - - as the lawsuit indicates, that number may be skewed in their favor. Do you really want to *gulp* trust that AT&T is telling you the truth? This style of metering that lets the utility solely determine the usage is problematic for consumers.
There are a few applications available to independently track cell phone data usage. Our plan is to test them out and blog our results and recommendations. Until then, be sure to keep a watchful eye on your purported data usage.