Who’s in charge, the masters or the machines? You’ll be wondering the same thing after you listen to this iconic gem from The Consumerist archive, the infamous Verizon Can’t Do Math call, which we reposting because the original video got deleted and the posts were kind of scattered. In it, George recorded his attempts to get Verizon to explain why they said they would charge .002 cents/kbfor data roaming, and then billed him for .002 dollars/kb, a difference of about $76. Problem is, no one at Verizon can do math.

2:55 condensed version:

Absolutely nothing George says can convince the Verizon folks that a dollar is 1 hundred times 1 cent! Citing a “difference of opinion” one of the reps eve says, “I’ve been working here for 2 years, sir, and I’ve been a supervisor for a year and a half.” Amazing. Classic. More back and forth and documents are on George’s blog he set up to house the story, Verizon Math.

In the end, George got a 50% refund and an apology. However, as he blogged about his experience, other people came out of the woodwork who had had the same issue. For a while afterwards, George continued to blog about the math issues at Verizon, sharing the stories he was getting from other people. The posting has since dwindled, but his story remains a touchpoint in the history of online consumer activism. It was even referenced in a recent New York Times blog post.

— 27:00 full length version

**TRANSCRIPT**:

[Start of Call]

[on hold with Verizon Wireless customer service]

Trent (Verizon): Hi.. Hey, George?

George: Yes.

T: Hey I’m really sorry about that wait there. Hey, I got Mike on the line. He’s my supervisor over here and uh, he’ll take care of you from here on out, okay?

G: Thanks.

T: Alright.

Mike (Verizon): Thanks Trent. Good evening George, how are you doing this evening?

G: Great, except that I’ve been trying to resolve this for two calls and over 45 minutes now.

M: Okay, well lets see what we got here, I’m definitely sorry that uh, that you’ve had to call in that many times. Let’s see, ummm, looks like you’re questioning some kilobyte usage that was done while in Canada?

G: Well, let me just start out with a basic question.

M: Okay.

G: Do you recognize that there’s a difference between “point zero zero two dollars” and “point zero zero two cents”?

[pause]

M: Point zero zero two dollars?

G: Do you recognize that there is actually…

M: …and point zero zero two cents.

G: Yes, do you you recognize there’s a difference between those 2 numbers?

[pause]

M: No.

G: Okay, is there a difference between 2 dollars and 2 cents?

M: Well, yeah, sir..

G: Well okay, is it.. is there a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents?

M: .002 dollars and .002 cents.

G: Yes, is there a difference between..

M: Sir, sir, they’re.. they’re both the same if you, if you look at ’em on paper-wise

G: No.. they’re not, actually. It.. is .5 dollars the same as .5 cents?

M: Is .5 dollars..?

G: Is half a dollar..

M: That would be.. That would be 50 cents.

G: A half a dollar.. is it the same as a half of a cent?

M: No.

G: Right.

M: Okay.

G: So, clearly, two one-thousandths of a dollar, which is your rate for airtime as I now understand it, uh, your rate per kilobyte in Canada is two one-thousandths of a dollar. But two one-thousandths of a dollar is different than two one-thousandths of a *cent*. What I was quoted was .002 cents. That’s two one-thousandths of a cent per kilobyte.

M: Mmhm. okay…?

G: I specifically asked the rep. I said, “Are you saying it’s .002 dollars or .002 cents?” because I .. *I* recognize that there’s a difference. Just like there’s a difference between that half a dollar and half a cent.

M: Okay.

G: There’s a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents. Your rate in Canada is .002 cents.

M: Correct.

G: Uh, it’s point, point… Well okay, it’s not true, it’s .002 dollars. You’re still quoting me .002 cents when in fact it’s .002 dollars per kilobyte. So, if you want to charge me .002 cents, I’d be happy to pay the bill, the problem is I was charged .002 dollars per kilobyte.

M: Okay, so if you take.. okay.. do you have a calculator with you?

G: Yeah, I do.

G: Okay, take this uh, 71.79.

G: Yeah.

M: And divide that by uh, 35,893 you should come out with .002

G: Yes, and what units should it be? Dollars or cents?

M: Well that’s per *kilobyte*.

G: Right. And is it dollars or cents per kilobyte?

M: Well, let me take a look here for ya.

[time passes…]

M: [looking up rates] We’re.. we’re in Canada..

[time passes…]

M: Hold on one second for me..

[time passes…]

M: [mumbles something about Canada]

[time passes…]

G: For the record, what I was quoted before I went to Canada, I called because I’m on an unlimited plan in the United States and I thought I might be paying more when I go to Canada.

M: Right.

G: What I was quoted was .002 cents. That seems to be what you believe is the rate is .002 cents. Unfortunately, your computer system charged me .002 dollars per kilobit, er, per kilobyte, so my point here is the confusion is on your side, and the first rep I spoke to, the second rep I spoke to, and including you, in calling “.002 dollars” “.002 cents”, that’s a hundredfold difference just like one dollar is 100 times different than1 cent.

[time passes…]

M: Okay… looking at the pricing here for ya.

M: Okay.. for data.

M: National roaming access coverage in Canada is .002 per kilobyte cents.

G: Can you say that again?

M: It’s .002 cents per kilobyte

G: .002 cents per kilobyte. So you just quoted me again; your price is .002 cents per kilobyte

M: Correct.

G: Okay, so now I’d like you to translate my 35,893 kilobytes into dollars if you would.

M: Okay, if you take .002

G: Cents, remember, cents.

M: Times 35,896. 71 dollars and 79…

G: No, that would be 71 cents because you started with a rate per *cent* and multiplied by the kilobytes, so that would be 71 cents. I’ll tell you what the problem is here, is you, you’re.. the original person I spoke to *before* I used my airtime…

M: Mmhmm.

G: Up to and including you, are quoting .002 dollars per kilobyte as if it’s .002 cents per kilobyte and they’re not the same, so I assumed that you guys knew how to do math. No offense here , but i assumed that you knew the difference between .002 cents and .002 dollars. And it sounds like there’s still some confusion about that. .002 dollars is two one-thousandths of one dollar, or two tenths of one cent, which is very different than two one-thousandths of one cent. It’s one hundred times different. [pause] I’ll give you a brief example: If you’re selling your car and I said I’m gonna give you twenty thousand for it, and I show up with 20,000 pennies, we’re not speaking the same language. If you quote me .002 cents it’s not the same as .002 dollars. So, when you just did the math .002 times 35,893, you came up with 71 cents. You didn’t do the translation from cents to dollars, which would be… you’d have to.. uh, divide by a hundred, so then you get .71 dollars: 71 cents, So, I do understand, even though it seems like maybe *you* don’t, that the rate is, I now understand: .002 *dollars* per kilobyte. But that was not what i was quoted, and that’s not how I used my airtime because i thought it was… I thought it was cheaper than it actually turned out to be, because I was misquoted.

M: Mmhm.

G: I also had no context. The previous person i was speaking to said I should have had some context because i know what the united states rates – I *don’t* know what the United States rates are, because I have an unlimited plan. I don’t have to be concerned about the United States rates.

M: Mmhm.

G: So. It all comes down to me being misquoted, and it’s hard.. it, would, it, it.. At the time, I, I said there could be some confusion here, so I asked the customer service rep, “Can you please write that down in the notes, that you quoted me .002 cents?”

M: Mmhm.

G: And she did.

M: Right, and I see that.. I see not only one, but I see several reps that have put it in here.

G: Right. So I.. I hope, it sounds like you may not actually see what the problem is yet, but ah..

M: Well, I’ve been working here 2 years sir, and I’ve been a supervisor for almost a year and a half.

G: Okay..

M: Okay? Umm, ya know, I’m going by what is.. what is documented here in the system.

G: Right.. so can you tell me then if, if the rate is as you quoted .002 cents per min.. per kilobyte, and I used 35,893.kilobytes, how much should I be charged?

M: By, by.. The way this is calculated? Seventy-one dollars and seventy-nine cents.

G: You did your math wrong, so what I’m saying is you did… bring up your calculator.

M: I.. I’ve got the calculator in front of me, sir. If i type in .002 and multiply that by 35 thousand, nine hundred…

G: But wait! but but.. Here’s the key.. I know, but here’s the key: What does the .002 represent? Cents or dollars?

M: It’s cents, sir.

G: Okay, .002 cents…

M: So basically you’re paying… you’re paying two tenths of a penny [pause] per kilobyte. If you want to look at it that way.

G: Two tenths? hold on, hold on.. two tenths of a penny…

M: Mmhm.

G: …would be .2 cents. You quoted me .002 cents. Do you see what I’m saying? [pause] Two tenths of one cent…

M: Mmhm.

G: …would be point two cents. You quoted me .002 cents.

M: That’s correct.

G: there’s a difference between .2 cents and .002 cents. They’re 100 times different. So which is the real rate?

M: .002 sir.

G: .002 what?

M: Cents per kilobyte!

[pause]

G: So you just said it was .2 pennies and then you also said it was .002 cents. Those are 2 completely different numbers. They’re 100-fold different. Quoting someone .002 cents per kilobyte is different than .002 dollars per kilobyte. I… I don’t know what else more I can tell ya. The math… the math on the bill is right if it’s .002 dollars per kilobyte. It was quoted .002 cents.

M: George, hold on one second for me okay?

G: Sure.

[on hold for 2 minutes, 35 seconds]

Andrea (Verizon): This is Andrea, the manager on the floor. How can i help you today?

G: Hi, uh, I think we’ve got a terminology and mathematics problem goin’ on here and it’s… It’s very basic to me, but I think we’re just having a problem because of the numbers involved.

A: Okay.

G: Just to summarize, I was quoted before I entered Canada… I was quoted .002 cents per kilobyte.

A: Okay.

G: And, just so you know, I have no context for how much you guys charge for data because I have a unlimited plan in the States so it’s uh, I don’t… Someone has… had mentioned to me I should have known that what it was because of what I pay in the states, but I pay… I get unlimited usage in the States, so I don’t have any knowledge of that. .002 cents per minute is what’s quoted for me… is what was quoted to me. My bill reflects .002 *dollars* per minute

A: What do you mean .002 dollars?

G: [big sigh] Okay, I think I have to do this again. Do you recognize that there’s a difference between one dollar and one cent?

A: Definitely.

G: Do you recognize there’s a difference between half a dollar and half a cent?

A: Definitely

G: Then, do you therefore recognize there’s a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents

A: No.

G: No?

A: I mean there’s… there’s no .002 dollars.

G: Of course there it’s.. it’s two..

A: There’s .002 cents is what you’re quoted, and that’s what I do show that you… you paid, or that ya know, you’re paying for the kilobyte usage.

G: Okay. [sigh] I don’t.. I don’t know a better way to express this. .002 dollars is the same as .2 cents.

A: Okay. Well how would you… What would .002 dollars look to you?

G: It’s point…

A: Obviously, a dollar is “one, decimal, zero, zero” right? So what would a “point zero zero two dollars” look like?

G: I don’t know…

A: I’ve never heard of .002 dollars. .002 dollars, it’s just not…

G: This is just… this is just math we’re talking about… this is…

A: …not a full cent.

G: That’s right. And…

A: Okay.

G: That’s right. And .002 cents is also not a full cent. My point here, is .002 dollars if you do the math, is .00002 cents. It’s 1/100th difference. There’s a hundred cents in a dollar.

A: But you were quoted .002 cents not .002 dollars.

G: That’s correct, but what I was charged…

A: Okay, so take .002 cents as .002

G: Dollars?

A: No,cents… .002

G: [to friend] You gotta hear this.

G: .002…

A: Uh-huh.

G: …cents, is two one-thousandths of one cent. I’m teaching math here.

A: [laughs] And I… I mean, I’m trying to get what you’re saying here, but it’s just not…

G: Here’s the… Let me… Let me cut to the chase…

A: I’m sorry that you um, already talked to a few different people here..

G: …Let me cut to the chase.. Well

A: …and they’ve all explained to you that you’re being billed .002 cents, and if you take…

G: I’m not being billed…

A: …and put it on your calculator.. it shows you that..

G: No it doesn’t, I can do…

A: We never said that you’re gonna get billed .00002 cents.

G: That’s right, you said I was gonna get billed .002 cents per kilobyte, and I’d be happy to pay that. Now, why don’t you bring up your calculator?

A: .002 cents, yeah.

G: Take .002, and we’re talkin’ about cents, right?

A: Right, .002, and if we multiply that by the amount of kilobyte usage that you have…

G: 35,893.

A: …35,893, that comes out to what you paid, $71.79.

G: Cents. You never did the conversion from cents to dollars.

A: Cuz we’re talkin’ about cents, we’re gonna multiply the amount of cents by the amount of kilobytes that you used…

G: Okay, ya know, ok…

A: …not dollars, nobody’s mentioning anything about dollars.

G: Let me start over here. Let’s… Let’s just say, hypothetically, that your rate was one cent per kilobyte. Right?

A: One cent, that would be .01

G: Right. .01 in her calculator. Correct. So, if it was one cent per kilobyte, and I used one hundred kilobytes, what would my charge be? You would take .01…

A: Uh-huh.

G: …times 100. And you come up with 1.

A: Right.

G: Right? for 1 dollar.

A: Right.

G: That’s if it was 1 cent per kilobyte. You’re telling me, you’re telling me though that the rate is not 1 cent, it’s .002 cents.

A: Right. [pause] that’s less than one cent.

G: .002 cents, if… if you, if you… in, in pure mathematics, it’s the only way I can express this, .002 cents is 2 one thousandths of one cent.

A: Okay.

G: Right?

A: So it’s less than a cent right?

G: It’s very much less than a cent.

A: Okay.

G: So, two one-thousandths of a cent. So lets start with two cents, just like we started with the one cent.

A: Okay, why are we doing two cents? We need to be doing .002 cents.

G: [big sigh]

A: My, I guess my point is, is that we quoted you .002 cents.

G: That’s right.

A: If you write it down is decimal point zero zero two…

G: No, it’s not, this… this is what I’m saying…

A: …so all we have to do with the calculator is decimal point zero zero two and multiply it by how many kilobytes that you had…

G: This is where… This is where you’re wrong, I, I don’t know how to make this any clearer. Let’s try this. Write down 1 cent. How do you write down 1 cent?

A: Point zero one.

G: How do you write down half a cent?

A: Uhhh, that would be point zero zero five of a cent.

G: Okay.

A: [laughing] I don’t know, I’m not a mathematician. All I’m telling you is I can tell you that with the calculator…

G: Yep.

A: …and we take the .002 as everybody has told you that you’ve called in and spoke to…

G: Yes, but…

A: …and as our system bill accordingly, is correct.

G: But you said .002 *cents*. Why don’t you just write it down on a piece of paper. You have .002 *cents* not dollars. .002 *cents*…

A: Right

G: …times my 35,893. It’s a number, but it’s still in *cents*. If you quoted me .002 *dollars*, everything is correct. If you quoted me .002 dollars, which represents two tenths of one cent – per kilobyte, then everything is fine. But I wasn’t quoted two tenths of one cent, I was quoted two one-thousandths of one cent. I was quoted .002 cents. It’s a terminology problem. You guys are quoting .002 dollars as if it’s cents, simply because there’s a decimal point involved.

A: We’re not quoting .002 dollars, we’re quoting .002 *cents*

G: Ah, God.. Honestly.

A: I mean the computer is calculating the, the figure here…

G: I know it is, it’s… it’s a terminology issue…

A: …and we are calculating the figure here, and we’re all coming up with the same thing – except for you.

G: .002 cents is different than .002 dollars. I’m being charged .002 dollars per kilobyte. .002 dollars is one tenth of one… I mean, two tenths of one cent.

A: Okay, well, I mean it’s obviously a difference of opinion…

G: It’s not opinion! This is.. this is..

A: …the amount that you’re billed for the data usage is entirely correct.

G: [exasperated] Ah, God.. Okay, well, you know what, I’m gonna post this recording on my blog, and…

A: And that’s, if that’s what you want to do, that’s fine.

G: …that’s what I’m gonna do, and, and then you guys all at Verizon can learn math, and you’ll learn how to quote it correctly. The rate as I understand it now, and according to my bill, which is now, I’m getting *after* the usage, is .002 *dollars* per kilobyte. Just so you know. if it was cents, you’d have to quote it as two tenths of one cent, or .2 cents.

A: Right.

G: It would be like – another example: Half of a meter is very different than half of a centimeter. Half of a centimeter is written “.5cm”. Half of a meter is “.5m” They’re two very different things. You can’t just write .002m equals .002cm. They’re one-hundredfold different. What I was quoted was a rate per cent, not per dollar. Uh, a rate in cents, not in dollars. If I was quoted .002 dollars, there would be no problem, but I was quoted .002 cents. I was quoted fractions of a cent.

A: Okay, well, the only thing I can say is it was just a misunderstanding between…

G: It was a misunderstanding, but I did the diligence to ask what the actual rate was, when she told me .002 cents, I said “Are you sure? Can you note it in my account?”, and she did. As .002 cents. But the problem here is that you’re not even acknowledging now that there’s a difference between .002 when you’re talking about dollars, and .002 cents. My assumption was it was .002 cents, because that’s what you told me. But it’s been calculated on my bill as .002 dollars, or two tenths of a cent per kilobyte, which is different than two one-thousandths of a cent per kilobyte.

A: Okay.

G: It’s a hundredfold different. My, my bill according to what you quoted me should be 71 cents not 71 dollars.

A: Okay. Well, again, there’s not… we’re not going to be able to make any adjustments to the bill because it is correct, and I do apologize if it was… obviously miscommunication or misunderstanding in explaining that to you.

G: Okay, is there someone i can escalate this to? because…

A: No, I’m the floor manager, so…

G: Because this is not adequate. An example I gave to the previous rep would be, if I said to you “I’ll give you twenty thousand for your car” and I showed up with twenty thousand pennies. It… it matters whether you say .002 dollars or .002 cents.

A: Okay.

G: Unfortunately, it seems like our educational system is making an ambiguity between .002 dollars and .002 cents, they’re very different.

A: Okay.

G: So I was quoted a different rate than I was charged and you don’t seem to want to take responsibility for that.

A: Okay, well, I mean, if you wanted to contact the corporate, you could do that on our website…

G: Can…

A: There’s a link under support that you can send an email directly to the corporate office and request that they contact you.

G: I.. I’m on there right now can you just bear with me while I find it?

A: Sure.

G: Support…I don’t see it here, where would I see it? Under “Contact Us?”

A: Om, just a second here. [typing]

A: OK, yeah go to the actually the “Contact Us.” Its going to give you a drop down box to choose whether you are a customer or not.

G: Um Hmm

A: Once you select the dropdown box its going give you a grid here that says “send an email.” You type in all of your information…

G: I don’t see that. I’m already logged into my account, is that the problem?

A: Are you hitting “Contact Us” at the very top in blue?

G: Om…

A: It should still allow you to get there even if you are logged in.

G: “Contact Us.”

A: At the very top where it says “Home, Site Map.”

G: Yeah, so I click on that.

A: OK

G: “Send us an email – What type of Verizon Customer?”

A: Yes, exactly.

G: “I receive a monthly statement”?

A: Hit “Yes” and then this is the email grid that you fill out.

G: OK great. And what was your name again?

A: Andrea.

G: Andrea, is there a way I can get back in touch with you if I need to?

A: I can just give you my direct line?

G: OK great.

A: It’s 888 581 1070 extension xxxx.

G: Alright, thanks.

A: Thank you.

G: Bye bye.

A: Bye.

G: [Click] Buffoons.

[End Of Call]

[VerizonMath]

PREVIOUSLY:

Verizon Doesn’t Know Difference Between Dollars And Cents

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