iPhone/AT&T $3,000 International Roaming Bill Serves As Cruel Warning

International data roaming charges are out-of-control expensive and can be difficult to dispute, should you accidentally rack them up. It’s not uncommon to be slammed with a $3,000 bill from just looking up a few websites on the go in Europe. We’ve written about it before, actually.

That’s what happened to David. Thankfully for him, his story got picked up by BoingBoing and AT&T has already waved his charges. But this isn’t unusual. This happens all the time to people who are unaware of just how insanely expensive international data roaming is… and AT&T doesn’t always waive the fees so easily.

Here’s David’s letter, which he sent to us and to BoingBoing:

I have a caveat emptor to top them all.

I purchased an iPhone on opening day to use in lieu of a cumbersome laptop while traveling in Ireland and England for two weeks in early July. AT&T promises “easy, affordable, and convenient plans” in their advertising… turns out I got two out of three.

On the way to the airport, I activated the per-use international roaming data plan – the only one offered to me. The rep quoted me $.005 per KB but did not disclose what that would translate to in layman’s language (i.e., X amount per e-mail, X amount per web page, etc.). I’m a web developer as part of my career and I couldn’t even tell you how many KB the average web page is, no less a text message to my son, an e-mail with a photo to my mother, or a quick check of Google Maps. That’s part one of the trap. However, I now pay $40 per month for unlimited data usage on the iPhone, so really — how much could it be? $100 at the most, right?

Keep reading.

As we know, the iPhone can’t be unlocked to use a European provider’s SIM card for more reasonable rates while traveling. There’s part two of the trap.

To be safe, I went online to My Account at AT&T a couple days into the trip and again a week later and was told “usage data is currently unavailable”… and that’s part three. I had no way of knowing specific usage data until I received my bill over the last weekend.

A bill for $3000.

Two weeks of travel with sporadic AT&T EDGE network usage off and on mixed with wifi when available… $3000.

Doing some research, I learned this morning that AT&T offers unlimited international data usage at $70 per month to its Blackberry customers.

Here’s my bottom line: I want this same usage plan to be made available to iPhone customers and to be applied retroactively to my account.

Billing phone reps offered me a $400 “courtesy credit” on the $3000 charge if I would agree to sign up for a $300 per year international data plan with a max of 20MB per month. (I’m not planning any international travel for a while anyway, but 20MB would be burned in a day or two of average use – they must be kidding.) I have until August 14th to resolve this or all my family’s phones (including my wife’s business line) get disconnected. Obviously, there’s no way I can pay $3000 for something so egregiously wrong.

I’m writing you in the hope that the exposure of my story might force AT&T’s hand in admitting they have an inadequate solution in place for international iPhone users, that they’ve discriminated against the iPhone in favor of the Blackberry, that they failed to adequately disclose the exorbitant nature of their rate plan, that they kept me in the dark about my usage specifics until it was too late to modify them, and that by disallowing unlocking to use a European provider’s SIM with more reasonable rates, I was trapped without knowing it until that $3000 “gotcha” came knocking at my door.

Soon after his letter was posted to BoingBoing, AT&T waived his charges. David writes:

Word travels fast over the internet…

AT&T just called and agreed to waive all charges due to the “miscommunication.” I think they have a customer for life now!

Traveling abroad? Check out this Consumerist post about roaming internationally. When you open your bill after your trip, you’ll be glad you did. And remember, if you can’t unlock your phone be sure to ask about roaming data packages, or phone rental.

ATT + iPhone int’l. roaming data horror story: $3K bill – UDPATE [BoingBoing] (Thanks, Xeni!)

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