Something is wrong — very wrong — with the way Verizon Wireless currently tracks its customers' data use. Thousands of Verizon customers complain that their use skyrocketed in recent months, even though they say they didn't actually use more data, according to a report on Cleveland.com, the website of the The Plain Dealer. In some cases, the overage fees Verizon charged amount to hundreds of dollars.
Despite dramatic evidence to the contrary, however, Verizon refuses to acknowledge the problem.
Even before I read the column by reporter Teresa Dixon Murray, I suspected there was an issue, because I had the same experience a few weeks ago. Shortly after I updated my iPhone 6 to the newest version of iOS, I got a string of texts from Verizon saying I was about to blow through my monthly 1GB data allotment. That seemed odd, because I downloaded the update via my home Wi-Fi network.
When I checked my data use, I saw that I was being charged for more than 2GB, or roughly four times my average monthly data use. I called Verizon's support line and explained the issue. (I did not specify that I am a columnist, because I wanted to be treated like any other consumer.)
The Verizon rep looked at my historic usage and that day's huge data consumption and agreed something was wrong, but she didn't know what. Even so, she quickly agreed to reverse the charge and retroactively increase my data cap at no extra cost.
That was great customer service, but thousands of other Verizon customers haven't been lucky enough to connect with such a savvy and principled employee.
Verizon customer data use inexplicably skyrockets
Here's a sample of the more than 4,000 complaints sent to The Plain Dealer:
- "Ron Staso of Cleveland said his family's use jumped from 30GB a month to almost 60GB, according to Verizon. Staso can't figure out why. He just knows Verizon says he racked up over-limit fees of $1,600."
- "Cherish Raver of Cincinnati has watched her cellphone data usage skyrocket inexplicably, shooting from 4GB a month last year to 36GB now. That's more than most people use in two years."
- "Chicago filmmaker Matthew Sanders for years used 6GB a month on average. He renewed his contract with Verizon Aug. 9 when he got a new internet hot spot. Three weeks later, Verizon said he'd used a whopping 38GB of data."
People can download more data than they realize in many ways. Faster connections download more data in less time, but regardless of how long it takes to download a file, it's the size of that file that counts against a data cap. Some new features, such as Wi-Fi assisted calling, also eat up data, and it's possible that some of the folks suffering bill shock used their phones as hotspots, which can push you over the data limit very quickly if you stream video.
However, none of these examples explain the blizzard of complaints recorded by the newspaper.
Verizon denies there's a problem
The response I got from Verizon PR was far from satisfying. From Carolyn Schamberger, Verizon's executive director of PR and national field operations:
"Verizon bills customers for actual data usage by their devices (phones, tablets, jetpacks, etc.) according to their pricing plan. While many customers are using more data, that is normal due to the increasingly data-rich media environment we are encountering."
Schamberger also listed a number of ways users can minimize data consumption. In other words, if you have a problem using too much data, it's your own fault.
Verizon could easily afford to fix this. Last year, the company as a whole earned a profit of $79 billion on $131.6 billion in revenue. Verizon probably isn't deliberately ripping off customers, but its stubborn refusal to acknowledge and fix what appears to be an obvious issue amounts to the same thing.