Orange have hit a university student with a nearly £8,000 mobile broadband bill for using a mobile broadband dongle abroad. The student, used the dongle for temporary Internet access whilst on an internship in France last September and received a bill for £6,101.56 after the first month of usage. He immediately queried the bill and got the dongle blocked, but further usage between the date of the bill and the dongle being block increased it to £7,648.77.
Users could be forgiven for believing that such a high bill was a mistake, but in this case, there was no mistake. Orange charge £2.94 per megabyte for using the dongle abroad, much to the surprise of William Harrison who regularly used it for Skype phone calls and avoided data heavy applications, under the belief of having 3GB usage included.
"The woman in the store said the dongle would work perfectly in France, especially for a short-term contract,. She said there was a 3GB (gigabyte) limit on data use but that this would be 'perfectly ample'."William Harrison
Upon contacting Orange, William's father was told that by a shocked telephone operator that there should be a £40 limit per month on dongle usage, but they obviously weren't aware that this didn't apply to overseas usage.
"I am concerned William was given unlimited credit. There was nothing to stop this going up to £100,000. I think it is wrong the way this [dongle] has been sold and that there was no 'flagging up' to highlight that a bill of this size was being built up. Even Orange said the size of this bill was exceptional. For my son, at his age, to be saddled with this amount of debt is terrible."Roger Harrison, William's father
"We have a number of initiatives in place to help customers control their costs and we hope that these, as well as the customer's own individual responsibility, will ensure customers can manage their roaming costs appropriately. All our roaming charges are available on our website, and literature which advises that these are separate to the inclusive UK data allowance accompanies the dongle at the point of purchase.
"Our customer service and retail staff are also trained to advise on the associated costs when travelling abroad, and our dongles are not activated for roaming unless specifically requested by the customer. In addition, our dongles feature a usage tracker alert option which allows users to manage how much data they are using."Orange statement
EU law is being introduced to help avoid this 'bill shock' but this only regulates wholesale costs to a maximum of €1 per megabyte, not significantly less than the £2.94 per megabyte that Orange charge. This will only come in to affect from March. European countries will also have to add a 'cut off' facility to ensure that data downloading doesn't occur beyond an agreed limit. This limit comes in to affect from July and will be set at €50 (£44). This will obviously be too late for the Harrisons, but at least progress is being made, and perhaps Orange will see the light and reduce their bill, taking the hit as good PR as some have done in the past.
Perhaps there is also a case for joined up thinking and proper roaming abroad. Most networks have partners in other European countries. Orange for example, owned by France Telecom, operate in most European countries including France, and they could offer free roaming across their entire European network. In the case here, if the usage had been on Orange's network in France, the the £8,000 bill would effectively be pure profit for France Telecom. It just needs one network to take the lead, and offer an innovative product such as this, to get the others on board playing catchup.