U.S. wireless carrier Verizon said it’s still hunting for the source behind large data charges on numerous customer accounts that have at times driven user bills into the thousands of dollars.
“While we haven’t found any anomalies, we won’t rest until we handle each customer’s questions and resolve any billing concerns,” Verizon spokesman Howie Waterman said Wednesday. “Our experts are working with each individual who contacts us to review their data use, clarify what’s going on, and explain tools for managing their data use and bills.”
The story of an unexplained surge in Verizon customer data use was originally broken by Teresa Dixon Murray of The Plain Dealer back in September. According to Murray, the recorded data use on numerous customer bills inexplicably surged over the past several months, with billing statements from the carrier alleging customers used double, triple, or even more data than usual and levying hefty charges that sometimes stretched into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Some examples provided by Murray include a Chicago man who saw his data usage jump from an average of 6 GB per month to 38 GB in one month and a Cleveland education center that received a stunning $23,850 bill after Verizon alleged one of the phones on its plan used over 1.3 terabytes of data in 10 days.
Customers with less extreme – but still significant – data fluctuations told Dixon they called Verizon to investigate the charges and were recommended for a plan upgrade – only to hit their new, higher data limit shortly after.
Murray’s report garnered thousands of responses from readers, and prompted a massive spike in complaints to the FCC. According to a follow up report from The Plain Dealer’s John Caniglia, customers submitted 1,442 billing complaints against Verizon in August and 2,079 in September, up from just 278 complaints in January.
An FCC spokesman previously told Wireless Week the commission is “aware of consumer complaints on this issue,” but declined to comment on whether an investigation would take place.
In an October blog post addressing inquiries related to Murray’s reporting, Verizon Vice President of Customer Service Lou Sigillo said each month the carrier takes “great care to help ensure your bill is right.” Steps taken by Verizon include a “variety of automated checks to help ensure billing accuracy and identify potential problems,” monitoring of voice, text, and data traffic across its network against expected traffic to ensure systems accurately count the data used, review of millions of customer bills before they are sent, and review of customer usage of top apps that consume a lot of data.
But still, Sigillo admitted errors do occur, and said Verizon is willing to fix them. He said Verizon takes each bill inquiry “seriously.”
“Your trust is very important to us, and that means we must make sure our bills are right every time, and that you have great tools to manage your data use,” Sigillo wrote. “It also means admitting when we’ve made a mistake, and ensuring that you’re not ever surprised by your bill. So when recent media reports profiled one of our customers who was shocked by an unexpected $9,100 bill resulting from data overage charges, we reached out directly to our customer, explained what had happened and resolved the issue quickly … Critical to delivering an exceptional experience is making sure your bill is correct and understandable, every time.”
But as Murray pointed out, if an FCC investigation finds fault with Verizon’s data billing, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Back in 2010, the FCC fined Verizon $25 million and ordered it to refund at least $52.8 million to customers who racked up unexplained data fees. That investigation found approximately 15 million “pay-as-you-go” customers were or might have been overcharged for data use from November 2007 to October 2010. Verizon said those charges were the result of “inadvertent billing mistakes.”