Roger Shaw: Beware of large mobile phone data bills, as my partner’s mother’s experience showed

Posted on January 14, 2016

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I am a hearing person, and I am sharing this story in the hope that it will stop other deaf people unknowingly running up huge bills.

At Christmas my partner’s profoundly deaf mother comes to stay for a few days.

Usually she brings over her laptop so she can chat with her friends in sign on Skype or another video chat programme.

This Christmas, after breakfast I noticed she was using a smart phone to video chat. It did seem easier than using a big cumbersome laptop. Then I wondered how she was accessing the internet.

On a previous visit I had set up her laptop to log onto our home wifi automatically but the phone was fairly new.

I asked to have a look and logged her phone onto the house wifi.

Then I wondered what tariff her phone was on and if she realised the amount of mobile data she’d used, and more importantly the possible cost of all those Facebook shared cat videos she had been watching earlier.

I mentioned this to my partner and we asked how much the phone contract was. Even my own poor signing understood the amount: £17.50.

At £17.50 a month I guessed the data allowance must be quite small and together we checked her latest bill online.

The latest bill was around £113 rather than the £17.50 she expected.

The data allowance included in the contract was a miserable 100mB and when she went over that each video chat or video seemed be costing a whopping £6 or more.

We tried to explain to her that using internet video on her phone could be very expensive if she wasn’t at home connected via her home broadband or using ours.

She didn’t entirely understand, its hard explaining mobile data charges to someone in their 70’s when our sign language is limited.

She did understand the cost, of £113 however, and we convinced her to use her laptop for videochat in future.

Later my partner noticed she seemed to be video chatting again, but she signed it was ‘g’ and ‘free.’

This turned out to be an app called Glide in which she seemed to be recording a video message to send to her friends.

No matter how I tried I couldn’t get through that even though the message wasn’t in real time it would still cost a lot to send and receive messages via the app unless again she was connecting via her own or our home broadband.

Later I saw her perplexed face as she tried to make sense of the bill we had printed out for her.

Not too surprisingly she had not used any of the 100 minutes talk time.

She had used only 36 of the unlimited texts.

And nearly 3GB or 3000MB of data!

This data usage was documented as a long list of dates and megabytes and £s totalling £71.50

What confused her was the description.

For each text there was an associated number of a friend she had texted.

For data, each day it was used, the bill just says a generic title, and £6.50. (There were quite a few £6.50s listed)

I realise she didn’t believe me as nowhere did it say ‘glide’ , ‘skype’, ‘facebook’,or ‘funny cat video’ next to the £6.50s to make the connection.

The phone company bill also listed two itemized phone bills rather than one.

Turns out that she is also paying a monthly contact fee for previous phone that she no longer uses.

I asked if she still needed the second phone and she retrieved it from her bag and said no it was finished. I understood why she didn’t use it as the screen was so small I couldn’t read it.

Unfortunately it was still in contract when she had gone to the shop to change it and she had been sold another one.

So now she has two phones at £17.50 a month, one she doesn’t use, and the other on the wrong tariff.

We managed to add 2GB month of extra data to her tariff at an added cost of £3 month which seemed like damage limitation for the moment, it wouldn’t cover the 3GB she had used this month but would hopefully reduce the cost by two thirds.

In a couple of weeks we hope to visit my partners mum (who lives some way off ) and visit her local Vodafone shop together so we can try and translate and get the old phone contract cancelled and a better contract (more data and less or zero calls) or PAYG for the newer phone she uses.

I am writing this in sheer frustration.

I totally understand why she has given up texting her friends in favour of signing on video chat which is far more appealing to her.

Unfortunately its very hard to explain to her the huge charges mobile phone operators can charge for using data on fancy smartphones.

Also, seeing an app that advertises itself as free is misleading if it is for video chat.

I would love someone to be able to make a short signed video to explain the problem to people like my partners mum in a way that we couldn’t.

Most of all I would hope that in future, phone companies could offer a deaf tariff which included a large data allowance, and texts at a discounted rate.

Roger Shaw describes himself as “a guy whose partner’s mother is deaf and has attended a few deaf events, and have  failed to learn sign language (I apologise.)”

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