Every so often there are stories about Canadians receiving a staggering cell phone bill and refusing to pay. These stories are compelling for a number of reasons, with the most interesting aspects, in my opinion at least, relating to the utter surprise customers feel when receiving enormous charges.
Sure, there are those who blame the consumer for “not understanding” or “not reading the fine print” or some other such baloney. And in some cases, the consumers are indeed responsible for what they’ve signed up for (or not signed up for). In some cases, however, the web of complications and nonsense is so intricate that it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for the frazzled customer.
In this instance, a father from British Columbia was slapped with a $1,400 bill from Rogers Communications after his 16-year-old son was charged for sending hundreds of text messages to his girlfriend. The rub? The father thought he had paid for an unlimited texting plan.
“I thought he could text a thousand times a day, because that’s perfectly fine. He’s covered for all of Canada,” said the father, Alex Dunsmore. “His girlfriend lives four blocks away.”
The trouble began when his son’s girlfriend downloaded a so-called “free texting app” from HeyWire. The US-based app alleged that it could send free text messages anywhere, so the girlfriend happily texted her messages of adoration to Dunsmore’s son free of charge. When Dunsmore’s son, love in his eyes, texted his lady friend back, the text messages were routed through the US and back to her. The results? Long distance text messages.
Obviously Dunsmore’s son figured, as most of us would, that he was just texting down the street to his girlfriend. The whole time the two lovebirds exchanged messages, Rogers collected charges that were way, way over the unlimited service plan.
“Why was I not notified, as the legally responsible person in this contract, that there was suddenly this atypical spending?” Dunsmore asked.
Dunsmore has a point, as many Canadian consumers receive notification when they leave the country and are set to incur roaming charges. After complaining to Rogers about the charges, he said that the company told him that his 16-year-old son should’ve recognized that he wasn’t texting a Canadian area code. His son’s girlfriend figured that it was a special number for texting and had no earthly clue that it was routing through the United States or that it would heap heavy charges on her boyfriend’s father. Oh, and the HeyWire app advertises there being “no charge to you even if your friends don’t have the app.”
When the texting charges got out of hand and went into arrears, Rogers cut both phones and tagged Dunsmore’s son and his girlfriend with $800 in charges for “cancelling” the contracts.
Rogers’ response was predictable. “I recognize that the customer may find this frustrating,” spokesperson Leigh-Ann Popek wrote. “But the account holder is ultimately responsible for the account. We do not monitor how many texts or calls customers make. But we offer the tools to allow our customers to keep a close eye on their usage.”
It’s hard to argue that Rogers did anything wrong here, but they also didn’t do anything right. Their approach, one of apparently not monitoring “how many texts or calls customers make,” continues to fuel the notion that Canada’s cell phone companies are monstrous, uncaring monoliths looking for a hook to get customers to part with more of their money.