Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill Part 2 – “$8000 Please”, says Virgin Mobile

by Gaurav Kheterpal on July 7, 2010

In March, I wrote a story covering the ”Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill” campaign organized by CBC Marketplace team. Nearly four months after, we’ve another candidate for the top slot of Canada’s most horrendous cell phone bill. Meet Jason Boutang, a Calgary resident who visited France for three days and then received the shock of his life when he received a statement of his June bill saying he owed Virgin Mobile a whopping sum of $7,763.70

His fault - he used a translator application, which he thought was free, to help him communicate with the French and streamed a Calgary rock radio station for five hours over three days. The poor fellow says that he did not know that know that both these functions require internet signal. While his argument is ridiculous, I believe that Virgin Mobile should have cautioned him in order to avoid this nasty surprise.

While the use of translation app seems reasonable, more so when the app itself was available as a free download. But five hours of streaming radio station from his hometown in Calgary, you got to be kidding. Whoever said that “Ignorance is bliss” obviously did not Mr. Boutang. Further, I fail to believe that a car salesman wouldn’t know the implications of using his cellphone so heavily on an international roaming network.

Virgin Mobile shut his phone off after three days, presumably due to the escalating charges. However, my point is that should they have waited for three days in order to pull the plug on Mr. Boutang’s phone services? After all, a simple text message from Virgin Mobile with a roaming charges warning could have avoided this horror story. Mr. Boutang further claims that he called Virgin Mobile a couple weeks before he left to inform them he would be taking his iPhone with him to Europe but the carrier’s customer service representatives did not tell him any details about the roaming data plan.

Boutang has filed a complaint with CRTC on Friday & is adamant not to pay till he receives a response from the Commission. Understandably fed up of Virgin Mobile, he has switched loyalties and is now a Rogers customer. On Tuesday, Virgin Mobile said it has decided to reduce Boutang’s bill down to about $2,000, which is nearly the same amount that he would have paid if he had opted for a roaming data plan. It’s not known if Boutang has agreed to the pay the revised bill.

So, who’s at fault? IMO, Boutang’s theory that the charges levied on him are “criminal” is a non-starter argument. A smartphone doesn’t turn a dumb user into a smart user, it leads to a dumb phone bill. At the same time, I really wish that Virgin Mobile should have adopted a more pro-active approach in order to avoid this incident.

What do you think? Is it all Mr. Boutang’s fault? Should Virgin Mobile be let off with a clean slate? Please share your opinion by leaving a comment below this post.

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Written by: Gaurav Kheterpal. www.digitcom.ca >. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com > by: RSS>, Twitter >, Identi.ca >, or Friendfeed >

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

RomanP July 8, 2010 at 3:09 am

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Bobby Richardson July 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

It’s people like that that mess up the society, from those suing McDonalds for coffee they spill on themselves to Boutangs of the world. The government is babysitting us like some irresponsible kids that cannot be allowed to make any decisions, this kind of thing will only lead us further. It’s becoming ok to be an idiot, and it’s always someone else’s fault.

Vast majority of us abide by the rules that we agreed to when we sign up to various services. Nobody forces us to sign up in first place, it’s a choice, and if you do that then please honour your contract.

Vast majority of us live by that, and limit ourselves to what we can afford. When I was in Europe, or Cuba, I did not go crazy racking up phone calls and data, because I knew, I will have to pay up in the end. I don’t want somebody that cannot exercise the same self-control to be sponsored by my fees! If it was reasonable to expect that my fees would be dropped just because I thought they’re too high, wouldn’t you think I would’ve enjoyed my mobile phone just a tad more overseas?

On any iPhone, to enable international data he would’ve had to take an explicit action – there’s a switch in settings. When you do that it warns you that there will be additional charges for roaming data.
So the guy does that and just assumes that the charges will be some arbitrary amount that he comes up with (according to him, $1500) without bothering to check and then proceeds to listen to stream radio for hours on end. Is this guy sane, or what???

Virgin Mobile, please don’t discount his bill. If he doesn’t learn that there are consequences in life for his actions, he, and others around him may suffer when he does something more dangerous and then claim he didn’t expect there would be consequences!

“I had to get three other people to look at the screen to make sure I read it right”

This statement right here is enough to tell you this guy should not be out there on our streets. He didn’t trust his own reading comprehension, nor that of 2 other people (people he presumably trusted if he asked them to confirm).

I hope I never have a friend like this. Some jerk who calls people over to read the numbers off his screen that he himself could easily read. After which he didn’t believe them and asked two more people to read the same numbers… Just where would you tell this ‘friend’ to go?

Jordan Richardson July 9, 2010 at 3:13 am

I think it’s slightly more complicated than that, Bobby, but I do agree with your point in general.

My concern is that the idea of “personal responsibility” winds up being used as a catchall by companies to absolve themselves of any wrongdoing. Companies that knowingly trap consumers in contracts and then raise rates extensively, for instance, are covering their asses with “fine print” that only the most arrogant among us claim to truly understand.

Responsibility has to be a two-way street. In this particular case, there’s little question that this poor unfortunate soul is on the hook for the money and should have to pay the bill in full.

Five hours of radio listening over the course of three days is hardly “hours on end” or an exaggerated amount, however, and I think this dilemma does speak to how much we’re being ripped off for roaming (among other things) by our providers.

I do agree that we need to know what we’re getting into, but I also think it’s fair to say that consumers are often taken advantage of by greedy corporations. Rules, regulations, privacy terms, and the like are far from transparent and this leads to more confusion than its worth, creating countless perplexed customers and many more disillusioned individuals.

I feel bad for this guy because I’m empathetic. I still think he should have to pay, though. Incidentally, I hope that you never have a friend like this either. I don’t imagine you’d have the patience.

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