Thousands of Verizon customers have reportedly experienced an unexplained uptick in their data usage in recent months that has led to massive overage bills.
According to reports from The Plain Dealer’s Teresa Dixon Murray, who first began looking into the issue earlier this month, a large number of Verizon customers have been battling larger monthly bills and overage charges stemming from an inexplicable surge in their data usage.
Over the course of her investigation, Murray said she received more than 4,000 complaints from customers of Verizon and the other carriers stating their data usage shot up in recent months without any change in their consumption habits. Murray said many customers she interviewed had already turned off data-sucking applications like Wi-Fi Assist, which switches to cellular data when the phone has a “poor” Wi-Fi signal, and background updates from apps. The changes, however, didn’t help, customers told Murray.
One customer named Matthew Sanders told Murray his usage increased more than six fold in one month from an average of 6 GB per month to 38 GB in August.
Murray said customers who have called Verizon to look into the charges have been recommended for higher gigabyte plans, which they have accepted to avoid overages only to swiftly hit their new caps. Several of the customers Murray spoke to reported $100 to $200 increases in their monthly phone bills and overage charges in the thousands of dollars.
Closer to home, there’s anecdotal evidence to back up Murray’s findings.
In an informal survey of approximately 10 Verizon Wireless customers in the Advantage Business Media office on Monday, around 80 percent of users reported noticing a significant bump in their data usage in the past few months. Like the consumers Murray spoke with, many of these customers said they upgraded to a plan with a higher data allowance only to hit their new limit soon after.
An FCC spokesman told Wireless Week on Monday said the commission is “aware of consumer complaints on this issue,” but declined to comment on whether an investigation would take place.
But what could be causing the surge in data usage?
“You look at what has changed before and after and what’s the common denominator,” Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner said. “If usage behavior didn’t change, if the device and the operating system didn’t change, and it’s only observed on Verizon then that points the finger on Verizon. If it happens on every carrier, then I would put the point at the OS or an extremely popular application. If it’s just one carrier, though, then it’s (an issue at) that carrier. Something changed.”
In her reporting, Murray contacted technology experts and former Verizon employees who indicated there may be an issue with the way the carrier’s billing system tallies data usage. This glitch, she found, could potentially be exacerbated by Verizon’s roll out of new network features, Voice over LTE and Wi-Fi calling, which might accidentally be logged as data use. Murray said updated to operating systems and apps, as well as new devices with unfamiliar settings menus, could be factors in the increased data usage.
Ads could be another culprit. As previously reported by Wireless Week, ad content on news sites has been found to account for up to 79 percent of data transferred.
Verizon spokesman Howie Waterman on Monday, however, said Verizon only bills customers for “actual data usage by their devices (phones, tablets, jetpacks, etc.) according to their pricing plan.”
While Waterman acknowledged some customers are using more data, he said the increase is “normal due to the increasingly data-rich media environment we are encountering.”
Waterman said the average size of web pages, videos and audio files increases every year to match consumer demand for high-definition content. He also pointed to independent research from Ericsson and Cisco that looked at customers of all carriers and found the average customer has seen data use increase by 60 percent from the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016.
For customers looking to curb their data usage, Waterman suggested turning off Wi-Fi Assist, which will force a user’s device to use data on Wi-Fi only. Waterman said Android devices are usually shipped with the feature turned off, while it is turned on as a standard on Apple devices.
Waterman also encouraged customers to optimize their app settings by disabling autoplaying video on Facebook and Twitter, turning off preloading pictures and videos on Instagram with the “use less cellular data” option, enabling travel mode on SnapChat, and changing YouTube settings to “play HD video only on Wi-Fi.”
Waterman said customers are also welcome to upgrade to the new Verizon plan and sign up for data usage alerts to better manage their experience. Should customers have additional questions or concerns about what’s causing additional data use, Waterman said they can call Verizon’s customer service line.
Verizon in July rolled out a revamped plan structure that offers customers data in 2 GB, 4GB, 8 GB, 16 GB and 24 GB tiers. The plans were updated this month to include Safety Mode – formerly a paid feature for some – free for all customers. Safety Mode eschews data overage charges in exchange for dropping a user’s data speed to 128 kbps for the remainder of their billing cycle once they hit their cap.