Before I set off on my trip along the Eurovelo 5, I made sure that I wasn’t going to be stung by any hefty mobile phone charges from Orange. I had recently upgraded to an i-Phone 4 which was a brilliant way to blog, surf the Internet as well as make the odd phone call of course. But I was aware that any phone, let alone an i-Phone 4 ate up the megabytes of data. Megabytes of data abroad = megabucks on the bill back home. Mindful of this, I purchased 2 megabytes of data for each day while on the continent; not a massive amount but sufficient to send the posts with pictures as I cycled south. I was able, via a neat little function on the i-Phone, to switch roaming off and on when I needed to so I wasn’t receiving any pesky data that was being “pushed” out to me from whoever wanted to sell me something via Facebook etc… I was also able to monitor how many megabytes I had used each day through a counter. Every few days I would exceed the 2MB level and resign myself to having to pay the £3 (or something like that) extra charge per megabyte of data. So be it… I also signed up for a bundle of Europeanness (invented word) that would mean I wouldn’t have to pay too much for phone calls made and received. Orange, to their credit, sent me a text message every few days reminding me that (I quote) “You have now used 5 [sometimes 10]Mb of data abroad since last Sunday. For prices and information go to… etc…”. While cycling, I was well-served by the abundant Wi-Fi networks of Europe; every campsite, bar or hotel (or even friend!) had a Wi-Fi network I could latch onto and avoid the mobile network altogether. In respect of my use of the i-Phone abroad, I had ticked all the boxes, pushed all the buttons. I was very well-prepared in advance!
When I got back to the UK towards the end of August, after a stiff drink (I knew that, despite my efforts, I was still in for a largish bill; certainly more than the £40 I was used to), I checked the bill online. My trip stretched over two billing periods; the first to the 18th August and the second to the 18th September. I was relieved to discover that my first bill came to “only” £141.29. Joy! Orange do like to keep their customers informed however and there is a button labelled along the lines of “usage since last billing”. Intrigued that I wasn’t in for any shocks (perish the thought!), I clicked and up came a figure….
It’s a cartoonish stereotype where the character shakes his head and rubs his eyes in disbelief on seeing something of unbelievable qualities. I was that cartoon character. But after the shakes and the rubbings, it still hadn’t changed; £8,492. (Perhaps you are now rubbing your eyes too.) Not £8.942. The comma was definitely the comma. £8,942.
What would you do? I stood up and nearly choked on the guacamole dip. Do you remember the first scene of Four Weddings & A Funeral. I was reliving it in my flat and getting nominated for an Oscar in the process. Deep breaths, deep breaths…. calm down…..
I called Orange call centre, almost in tears. Thank goodness it wasn’t India. Nothing wrong with the Indians but you never get the impression they have all the facts at the end of the long telephone line to Delhi. They probably do… I digress. The lady from the north-east did tell me that yes, it was “a little on the large side”. A little on the large side! It was f*****g humongous! £4 for every mile that I had cycled south. My fund-raising target was only 10p per mile and here I was with the prospect of having to pay out 40 times that amount for having informed the readers of this website and potential donors to my worthy cause how I was doing. Deep breaths, deep breaths…..
The conversation ended and I tried to calm down as the tea-towels tell me. I printed off my bill for the month to August 18th. £141.29. It covered my trip all the way to northern Italy; I could see the list of data charges being made by France Telecom, Bouyges Telecom, Luxembourg Telecom, Swiss Telecom and even a bit of Italian Telecom. Nothing was excessive. Rational thinking started to kick in. Why would it be that my charges should somehow leap in my next bill. I had not used my telephone in any way that was different while I was cycling through Italy; three, four perhaps even five emails with a small photo attached to each message. Orange hadn’t suddenly started sending me panicky text messages saying “You have now used 1 Gigabyte of data abroad since last Sunday. For prices, information & therapy go to… etc…”.
I called the call centre again. Again, it was in the north-east and this time it was a young lad. I explained my situation and he at least refrained from the irony of telling me my usage was “a little on the large side”. He was more helpful and did explain that the charges while abroad were only calculated on the billing date and until that time they were just an estimate. Thank goodness Orange are in the mobile phone business and not in the building trade. I enquired as to whether we couldn’t create a new billing date now and find out the real amount of the bill. Impossible. (Isn’t it always until they appear on Watchdog?) He was, however, able to tell me that the estimated amount of the usage since the last bill was based upon how long my roaming had been switched on. He could tell me that, according to their computer, it had been switched on for around 4,000 minutes during the billing period and that it was assumed that I had been making calls during all that time. Clearly I hadn’t.
But it plays on your mind…. If a computer tells me that I owe someone £8,500 I tend to think that there is an element of truth in what it is saying. OK, I had had the reassurances from Orange but who is to say that my phone hadn’t been hijacked in some way while I was in Italy and that some local Don hadn’t been using my number for nefarious purposes?
For three weeks it has played on my mind. In the last few days even more so as I knew that the day was approaching of the bill being generated and Orange sending the fateful text. It came this morning, in cheery style;
“Hi from Orange. Your bill is now ready to view online… where you can make a payment (if you need to), check your usage & much more”.
I wonder if they assume that “much more” includes emotional breakdown at the thought of having to find £8,500 to pay the damn thing?
I had the remnants of last night’s Chardonnay on hand – one gulp in my mouth already – and signed on. I told myself that mentally, anything below £1,000 wouldn’t be too bad. I could spread it in instalments. I could put the i-Phone on eBay. Perhaps it would be the spur to write that Eurovelo 5 book that people keep telling me to write….
It wasn’t £8,500. Phew. It wasn’t £1,00. It wasn’t £141.29.
It was £90.71.
Clearly delighted at the prospect of not having to pay £8,500, I drank the remainder of the remainder of the Chardonnay. But then I got angry. I am intelligent. I am educated. I am rational-thinking. I did work it out for myself. How many don’t? How many can’t? How many are scared to? How many, on seeing such a sum on the computer screen do something stupid as a result?
I phoned Orange and it is here where it is only “kind of” over. I made my complaint to a call centre worker who, all credit to her and the company, gave me a £30 credit off the next bill (it pays to complain!), but it was missing the point. This is not about me and my bill, it’s about the procedure. I was rung back by a manager. But he couldn’t give me the reassurance that the company will definitely investigate why it is giving out billing information to customers which turns out to be not 10% incorrect, not 100% incorrect but getting on for 9,000% incorrect.
The lemons are calling me back on Monday to discuss. Watch this space….