$20,000 per GB

by Colin Berkshire

We live in a world of almost free telecommunications. If you buy an IDDD SIM card in Hong Kong for USD$15 you will get 4 months of service and 240 minutes of talk time. Your local calling area will be 31 countries. A SIM card in most SE Asian countries will cost $3 and you will pay about 3-cents a minute for calls within the country and about 10-cents a minute to call far-away places like the United States. A few gigabytes of data in Asia costs ten or twenty bucks.

But under no circumstances should you travel with your US SIM card overseas.

Here in the US you pay about $5 per gigabyte for data. (Verizon charges $10 per two gigabytes.)

What do you think you would pay when traveling to Hong Kong? Verizon will charge you more than $20,000 per gigabyte. No, the comma is not in the wrong position. A single gigabyte of international data using your Verizon phone costs as much as a brand new car. A single email can easily cost $10 or $20 when roaming.

You know and I know that using VOIP or FaceTime or Skype the cost to call overseas on the Internet is free. But a voice call on Verizon is about $150 an hour. A Facetime call is–hang onto your wallet–over $100 a minute!

I had an opportunity to ask a Verizon rep how such charges were even ethical. His response was that if you go to a hospital and get a CT scan the insurance company will pay about $350 but if you don’t have insurance the fee would be about $7,500 for the exact same thing. Was that any more ethical? It is really hard to argue with logic like this.

I asked what the Verizon policy was for writing off charges for customers who just had no idea how enormous they could be.  His response was that they usually would not write the charges off, but on occasion he had heard of 1/3 being waived if the customer paid without being sent to collections. Yes, Verizon was willing to write off nearly $7,000 a gigabyte! (What a concession.)

Now, lets’ stand back a moment and catch our breath…

Cell phone data costs $5 a gigabyte here in the US. It costs about $3 a gigabyte in most other countries. So, your cell phone in Hong Kong actually uses about $3 a gigabyte from the perspective of the local carrier there. Verizon then marks the $3 charge up 7,000 times to the ludicrous amount of $20,000 a gigabyte because they have to provide the billing services.

But it doesn’t stop there…

You can ask your cell phone carrier to disable international calling and international voice roaming. This will prevent you from receiving $2.50 a minute calls and $0.50 SMS messages. BUT you CANNOT disable international data. Verizon and other carriers have no option to disable international data. They claim the data cannot be turned off on your account. (You can disable it on your phone, but they admit this is unreliable.)

I once had a case where I landed in Asia and turned on my phone after landing. I immediately went in and turned on “Airplane Mode” and turned off data once it was powered up. In the moment between powering up and being able to get into the setup screen I ran up a $75 data bill. Incredible.

I have a relative that lives near the Canadian boarder. I ran up a $50 international data charge even though I was in the United States.

Is there no sense of ethics any longer?