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AT&T's Bad Math Strikes MythBusters' Savage 305

etherlad writes "MythBusters' Adam Savage got a bill charging him $11,000 for 'a few hours' of Web surfing while in Canada, using his AT&T USB Mercury modem. AT&T gave him a quote on the data rate: '.015 cents, or a penny and a half, per kb.' Looks like AT&T didn't learn from Verizon's inability to do math. AT&T is also claiming Savage downloaded over 9 GB, which he calls 'frakking impossible.' Savage's huge following on twitter got him a speedy response by AT&T."
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AT&T's Bad Math Strikes MythBusters' Savage

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  • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:07PM (#28490675)

    Bust the all the myths that the companies quote about why they need to charge what they do, reliability, and especially that there is competition in the marketplace?

    • by randomnote1 ( 1273964 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:10PM (#28490689)
      lol...I don't think so. I think that everybody knows that myth is BUSTED!
    • maybe one about RT's with exploding batteries.

    • I'm really hoping this swing back towards more regulation will put a stop to these kinds of abuses. They are obviously far out of line with real world costs and every provider is in collusion. The same goes for text messaging 'costs', which cost magnitudes less than a phone call to transmit.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Actually for the most part they cost virtually nothing since the signal that the sms data is in is being sent ANYWAY, they just stick a little extra data in there and plain text is microscopic in terms of how much data it makes up. Isn't it something on the order of a few bytes for a word?

  • by clone53421 ( 1310749 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:10PM (#28490687) Journal

    ".015 cents, or a penny and a half"

    Let me guess... whichever is larger?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Does that mean they "only" over-charged by 100X, so the bill should be $110 for a few hours? That's still outrageous, no?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AndrewNeo ( 979708 )

        It was roaming outside of the country, so it's not that bad, considering how much voice minutes are, too.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by compro01 ( 777531 )

          So the pricing is only as ridiculous as the ridiculous pricing on another item?

    • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:42PM (#28490855) Homepage Journal

      No, you divide the larger by the smaller.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Welcome to Canada, he almost got a better rate then we do here Rogers Wireless [] which is the only provider of GSM unless he was with Bell [] or Telus [] for CDMA / TDMA. In Canada you have to deal with one of the three (there is Fido but they are really Rogers) for 1GB(yes o.n.e) it is $30/month with a 3 cent overage calculated per KB, this is from the Rogers and Telus is actually 5 cents per MB. If you can figure out what Bell is actually offering your likely a natural genius but all the plans start at $45.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      ".015 cents, or a penny and a half"
      Let me guess... whichever is larger?

      I can't believe no on Slashdot has pointed out that .015 cents != a penny and a half
      .015 dollars = a penny and a half.

      • by elashish14 ( 1302231 ) <profcalc4&gmail,com> on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:14PM (#28491023)

        Ok! Ok! I must have, I must have put a decimal point in the wrong place or something. Shit. I always do that. I always mess up some mundane detail.

      • I knew that... geez. Do I really have to explain the joke? Whenever there's two options, it's always whichever one is better for them... sort of like the 20,000 mile / 10 year warranty: whichever comes sooner.

      • by shma ( 863063 )

        I can't believe no on Slashdot has pointed out that .015 cents != a penny and a half .015 dollars = a penny and a half.

        No one pointed out the mistake because a) it is mentioned in the summary ("Looks like AT&T didn't learn from Verizon's inability to do math") and b) everyone here knows how to do elementary school arithmetic, so no one felt the need to point out the obvious.

      • That's sort of implicit in the summary. "Bad math" is kind of a clue that AT&T made a number error, and there's a link to Verizon making the identical mistake (a link which explains the error). I mean, thanks for spelling it out and all, but it's not like no one noticed it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RawsonDR ( 1029682 )

        I can't believe no on Slashdot has pointed out that .015 cents != a penny and a half

        That's because that is suppose to be the obvious part, but isn't to surprisingly few people. That's the whole point.

        The rate really is 1.5 cents per KB, but it is constantly quoted as .015 cents.. that is, the number is typed out in dollars (.015) but because everyone knows that a price in fractions of dollars is really talking about cents, that's the unit spoken by a lot of people when interpreting it. "Point zero one five cents." And they don't understand that they have changed the value.

        It's not a

    • by slashqwerty ( 1099091 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @12:05AM (#28491235)
      Given the way the math works out I'm going to say it's .015 cents per kilobit. AT&T claims he used 9 gigabytes. That is 9,663,676,416 bytes = 9,437,184 kilobytes* = 77,309,411.328 kilobits. At .015 cents per kilobit it comes out to $11,596.41. The summary claims he was charged $11,000.

      * down with the kibi prefix!
  • by Wuhao ( 471511 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:11PM (#28490691)

    I'm not sure what a crowd of angry MythBusters fans would do, but I'm sure that it would involve large amounts of kinetic energy.

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:11PM (#28490695)
    there is no way in hell AT&T would be getting that kind of money out of me! you hear that AT&T?!!
  • by starblazer ( 49187 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:12PM (#28490701) Homepage


  • by elashish14 ( 1302231 ) <profcalc4&gmail,com> on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:15PM (#28490715)

    I wish I could have a mass following behind me that I could use to blackmail evil corporations.... Instead, here I am just clicking away at every Microsoft ad I see hoping that it'll eventually rack up some respectable cost to them.

    -bitterness, sad face-

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:21PM (#28490739) Homepage Journal

      Well, when I was young, man moons ago, we used to have these things called "consumer protection laws". You could walk over to your phone and call a government hotline for help. Of course, you'd get a massive shock when you picked up the phone because of the electrostatic action of your polyester leisure suit, so I'd have to conclude that on the whole things aren't any better or worse than they used to be.

      • Of course, you'd get a massive shock when you picked up the phone because of the electrostatic action of your polyester leisure suit, so I'd have to conclude that on the whole things aren't any better or worse than they used to be.

        While I can't definitively say that fashion has improved much, I'm pretty sure it's not gotten worse that the "polyester leisure suit". The only shock you would receive now would be if you actually got to speak to a real person on the other end of the phone, because customer service was much better man [sic] moons ago than it is now.

    • by Binestar ( 28861 ) * on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:27PM (#28490785) Homepage

      Actually, he's got 55,000 and growing followers on twitter. In the last 7 hours he's sent out a dozen or so tweets. To 55,000 people. 25 cents (.25 dollars) per text == AT&T making a lot of money off Adam's outrage.

      He just got commision =)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by njfuzzy ( 734116 )
        Most people don't actually get their entire Twitter feed send to their phone.
      • He also happens to have a TV show.

      • Given that his cell phone was turned off by AT&T (as a result of his alleged overage charge), I have a hard time believing AT&T got any money from Mr. Savage's tweets.

        Besides, even if he had sent the tweets via cell phone, all 55,000 of his followers would have had to be 1) AT&T subscribers and 2) set up their Twitter accounts to receive Savage's updates via text messages and 3) paid for those text messages at the basic rate (not via some kind of unlimited usage plan). I don't know about you,

      • by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Saturday June 27, 2009 @05:03AM (#28493067) Journal

        Oh America!
        Being charged money to RECEIVE SMS and phone calls, absoloutely apalling, my condolences. :(

        - The rest of the world.

        • by grotgrot ( 451123 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @01:13PM (#28495789)

          Being charged to receive cell calls makes sense. In other countries such as the UK calling a cell phone costs the caller more than calling a landline. How do you know which you called? Cell phones have their own area code. In the US there are no area codes for cell phones so there is no way for a caller to know. Conceptually the call goes to the regular area code and then has to be transmitted by radio to your phone and the latter bit is why you are charged for incoming and outgoing calls. Of course it doesn't work like that under the hood any more but it used to in the begining. Either way someone is paying extra for the cell phone call cost.

          Some countries don't have this system but they aren't comparable to the US. All of the UK, NI and various islands fit in 2/3 of California. Germany is the same size as Montana. The scale is very different.

          SMS receiving used to be free. The reason for the charges is because of a corrupt market. The carriers have a cartel. They fought very hard against number portability. There are two different radio systems, and even the one used by the rest of the world (GSM) is on different frequencies. Phones are sold cheap but lock you into a two year contract and you are unlikely to be able to use a phone between carriers even if it is unlocked. All this minimizes the ability of consumers to change carriers. The cartel players also by some miraculous coincidence charge exactly the same for SMS. Whenever one raises the price, they all do.

          A secondary issue is that voice is charged too cheaply since that is what the headline number looked at by consumers is. Consequently the carriers make up for it by nickel and diming on every single other thing they can, including SMS.

  • by unlametheweak ( 1102159 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:18PM (#28490727)

    Savage's huge following on twitter got him a speedy response by AT&T."

    I'm sure the response would have been just as fast if he wasn't famous and wasn't using Twitter. These large companies have professional Human Resource departments to make sure that the customer service experience is good.

  • Verizon? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Centurix ( 249778 ) <centurix@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:19PM (#28490729) Homepage

    Well, *THERE'S* your problem.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not reading the article title much less the summary or article?

      Well, *THERE'S* your problem.

  • Customer service? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RealGrouchy ( 943109 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:20PM (#28490733)


    [AT&T] hasn't exactly been garnering positive reactions from its legions of Twitter-using members.

    I'd say. If their customer service is anything like cell phone companies up here, it probably takes more than 140 characters to navigate their phone tree to talk to a human!

    - RG>

  • by arbiter1 ( 1204146 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:24PM (#28490765)

    anyone else think those companies are crooks for charging per kilobyte like that is complete bull s(*@# ? just loading a damn web page like is almost 1MB so that would be 1$

    • at time of that post, this page would cost ya 60+ cents

    • A $1???? Try $15.68 per MB. I just got back from Toronto and upon arrival, I got a text message stating that as the rate for data if I used it.
    • by Schraegstrichpunkt ( 931443 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:32PM (#28491095) Homepage
      There's nothing wrong with charging per kilobyte. What they should do is *only* charge per kilobyte, and not differentiate between "voice", "local calls", "tethered data", "text messaging", etc. It's absurd that it's cheaper to acoustically-couple a 300-baud modem to your cell phone for 5 minutes than it is to transfer the equivalent amount of data over text messaging, despite the massive overhead of the audio traffic.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by xeoron ( 639412 )
      I agree, at the same time, one can protect themselves by using Lynx or W3m to browse the web via a phone.... or just turn off images, flash, video, etc. Come to think of it, sometimes I wish Firefox had mode extension for rendering like w3m or lynx
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It does. Install the Web Developer toolbar.
        Then click Disable > Java, Disable > JavaScript, CSS > Disable Styles > All Styles, Images > Disable Images > All Images. Voila. You're now running Netscape 1.0 (sans images); an adjustment to font settings and you're using Lynx. :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Opera is pretty good at it - it has toolbar buttons to disable images (or only show cached), CSS, and so on. I'm pretty sure I've seen similar Firefox plugins, too.

  • by Landshark17 ( 807664 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @10:26PM (#28490777)
    Upon seeing the bill I'm sure his first response was, "I reject your reality and replace it with my own!"
  • by corbettw ( 214229 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:00PM (#28490951) Journal
    Two of the most powerful entities in the world are humbled by Twitter. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.
  • If only there was someone who investigated whether what people believe is true or not. Someone should look into these kinds of odd events and see if they're possible or not. Incidentally, how big are those Canadian dollars?
  • by failedlogic ( 627314 ) on Friday June 26, 2009 @11:54PM (#28491177)

    This stuff always makes the headlines when the bill amounts to 1,000's of dollars. The real problem is that there are probably a constant stream of people being billed $5, $20, maybe $50 for the usage. When they pass it off and just pay it, then the company lines its pockets with easy money.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ksemlerK ( 610016 )

      Review each line of EVERY bill. Last month they attempted to charge me data twice. I called them and told them where to look on the bill. I got $50 credited to my account because I caught it. ($35 for double charge, $15 for who the hell knows why). ALWAYS do a line item inventory of your bill, EVERY month. ALWAYS contest suspicious charges. Usually they can be cleared up with nothing more then a 20 minute phone call.

  • Okay, I'll bite... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tehtrex ( 1582049 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @12:04AM (#28491229)
    9GB of data is 9,437,184 KB. The numbers don't add up.

    ".015 cents": 9,437,184 KB * $0.00015 = $1,415.5776
    "a penny and a half": 9,437,184 KB * $0.015 = $141,557.76

    Since the published data roaming rate in Canada is $0.015/KB, let's go with "a penny and a half".

    $11,000 of usage at $0.015/KB equals 733,333.33333333...KB or 716.145833MB.

    So not only do they not know the difference between a cent and a dollar, but their system for measuring data transfer is also off by a factor of ~12.87... unless they somehow billed him for .015 cents and then tacked on 10k in fees...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's per kilobit, not byte. 9,437,184 * 8 * $0.00015 = 11,324.6208 ~ 11,000

  • by carlzum ( 832868 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @12:26AM (#28491373)
    No one should be held liable for outrageous bills like this. AT&T failed to put reasonable controls in their billing system so customers are alerted when there's an obvious technical error, unauthorized use, or a simple mistake. American Express says my credit line is unlimited, but if I try to spend $100k they will decline the purchase and contact me. If I had a history of paying $100k bills they may allow it. But AT&T allows an account that's never exceeded a few hundred dollars reach $11,000. We all know why, unlike American Express, AT&T doesn't incur $11,000 in expenses so they don't bother doing anything about it.

    It doesn't make any sense to me. Most people are unable to pay the bill, and anyone that can afford it has the resources to fight them. Either way, it generates a lot of bad PR and very little revenue. I'm surprised Apple hasn't put more pressure on them, these stories are frequently reported as "man receives $10,000 iPhone bill."
    • by wwphx ( 225607 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @11:39AM (#28495121) Homepage
      Customer service Epic Fail. I find it interesting that people aren't mentioning that this is actually Cingular, AT&T cellular died years ago and was bought out by Cingular, who later re-branded as AT&T because they thought that had better name recognition. AT&T flubbed a CRM install and it tanked their customer service, and they died. It just happened that the two companies used the same cellular technology (GSM or whatever) and a merger was possible. Sadly, Cingular's customer service was really no better than AT&T's, so you're still dealing with a sad and lonely monster.

      I use Alltel. Driving to work a week ago I got a text message saying that my account had high usage and I needed to call them. My wife had just spent a week on the other side of the country, her cell is an additional line on my plan. We spent a lot of hours playing WoW and talking while she was gone, and I didn't know she was roaming. $600 worth of charges. Alltel saw the problem, contacted me, and offered me a plan upgrade for $20 a month that gave me unlimited nation-wide roaming, and that by doing it, it would be retroactive and I wouldn't be hit with a $600 phone bill.

      THAT is customer service. I don't know what AT&T provides, but it ain't customer service. Cellular service in the USA has always been hideously monopolistic compared to a lot of the world, and somehow they get away with it. Hopefully that will change some day, probably the same day that I can easily buy an iPhone from an Alltel store and not have to deal with AT&T.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I agree, updates when your bill doubles last months total would be nice, but the real problem would be with cust. service reps who say one thing when it's actually another. Some might see an all too convenient oversight that benefits giant megacorp, I just see a bored 20 something single mother working the callcenter grind who couldn't define the word kilobyte with a gun to her head. She just reads the stuff shes supposed to read, and what does it matter when she says kilobit or kilobyte? Same thing right?
  • by Hotawa Hawk-eye ( 976755 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @02:51AM (#28492397)
    "nobody wants to mess with a man who blows things up for a living."
  • by Aereus ( 1042228 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @04:07AM (#28492765)

    Anyone else think it's bordering on insanity the charges they want to levy against people for wireless data transfers? (Text messages is a whole other topic...) Even the new download caps some cable ISPs are setting for home broadband are still at least 100GB for a connection you spend ~$50 for. Why is it worth thousands of dollars to send a GB of data when a normal phone conversation is going to take up far more network bandwidth...

  • by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @04:26AM (#28492893)

    I don't understand why data is so hugely expensive in the US anyway. In Europe, you get unlimited data plans starting at EU 5/month (EU 25/month for unlimited 3.5G usage). Or you can buy 3G access day-by-day for EU 2.50/day. Some plans have international data roaming caps anywhere within Europe at EU 15/day.

  • by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @04:41AM (#28492965)

    Don't use US carrier SIM cards for international travel: you get no cost control and high rates for data.

    Your best bet is to get a local, prepaid SIM card. In some countries, you can get day-by-day data subscriptions for a few bucks a day.

    If you can't do that, your next best bet is to get an international prepaid SIM card. Their rates are a little higher, but they are still fairly low, and they are fairly low across the entire globe.

    Either way, you get cost control: they can't charge you more than you prepaid.

    Search on Google; there are many companies offering this service. Oh, and you need a GSM phone, preferably one that supports tethering. Most Nokias running Symbian will work and you just plug them into your laptop and they work as a 3G modem; they also have good E-mail readers.

    (Nokias are a bit old-fashioned in that they ask you for every Internet connection you make; normally, that's a nuisance, but for data roaming, it's great.)

  • Only in the US... (Score:4, Informative)

    by torkus ( 1133985 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @05:33AM (#28493207)

    Only in the US do you have this insanity. I'm returning from a trip to Stockholm and you can get unlimited 7.2MB broadband for about 40 bucks a month including taxes. 25 if you already have a phone plan. My swedish is lacking, but poking around with google translator I didn't find anything about bandwidth caps.

    Again: $25-40US for UNLIMITED 7.2Mb broadband. Including taxes.

    Off the top of my head, not a single major WIRED provider in the US even matches that price ... and many are talking about implementing bandwidth caps. Wireless? Bah. No big provider is unlimited and you're coughing up at least $60 + taxes and good luck actually getting 7.2Mb.

  • by Wayne247 ( 183933 ) <> on Saturday June 27, 2009 @09:28AM (#28494193) Homepage

    I'm a Canadian client of Rogers, and while we were on vacation in Mexico a few months ago, we decided to use the Palm Treo we brought for some basic web surfing and email checking (swine flu panic, get some information for airports and whatnot).

    So I call their handy and free 611 customer service, and ask for roaming charges. "What phone do you have?" she asks. "Palm Treo 650." She then tells me the charges for data are "Three cents per kilobyte." - "Sure?" - "Yes."

    It sounded cheap, but not too cheap to be impossible. To be sure, I went to an internet cafe at the corner, and checked Rogers website. Impossible to know for sure, but I could find two information: 3 cents per MEGAbyte, applied to ordinary phones, and 3 cents per KILObyte applied to smartphones, especially the iPhone.

    So we used it, thinking it would be 3/KB, but reasonably because, afterall, it's only a Treo and there's not much you can do on the web with it.

    Upon my return, I got a bill for 80$ in data roaming charges. I fought it, had the issue escalated, I even DARED them to "Go listen to the recorded conversation" that they keep on file for "training and enhancement purposes". They finally caved in and removed all the charges from my bill, except 10$, which was satisfactory.

    It's really bad when you are considered guilty until you can prove innocence.

    Rogers do that kind of stuff frequently. I just upgraded to an iPhone and had to call them because each and every rebate/discount I previously had, and each bargain/rebate I managed to negociate on my new contract, they all disappeared mysteriously from the new invoice. Of coures it's a mistake. Of course the system had a hiccup and my order was not processed fully. Riiight.

    But all in all, because I'm quite vocal about my consumer rights and will gladly voice them to the companies I deal with, I end up with a pretty interesting contract, and the services are good, so I'm, afterall, a happy customer.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun