A family from Berlin, Germany, incurred mobile roaming charges of over €12,000 (US $13,922) during a cruise trip from northern Germany to Norway, according to a news report. The surcharges arose after the family’s 12-year-old son viewed a number of videos on his smartphone, which was connected to a mobile network via a satellite-internet connection. The mobile provider is now demanding over €12,000 in payment for roughly 470 MB of data consumed by the family, arguing that the use of cruise ships’ mobile networks via satellite is expensive.
The mobile provider has since reduced the roaming charges to roughly €5,000 (US $5,801) “as an act of goodwill.” However, the family has retained a lawyer and is taking legal action against the charges. The cruise line, Reederei Color Line, said it was sorry for the incident and that customers should inform themselves about roaming charges at sea beforehand, noting that using the cruise line’s internet Wi-Fi network would have been cost-transparent alternative.
This tale of epic bill shock, while perhaps not of great consequence in the larger world of telecommunications, is nonetheless a good object lesson about the ever-present need for transparency and good customer relations.
Without a doubt, by today’s standards of data consumption, 470 MB is a very small amount of data indeed. That a mobile customer should be billed €12,000 for it is of course, totally disproportionate, not to mention unaffordable. However, we concede the point of the unnamed operator, that use of a ship’s satellite-based network is expensive and that the operator is within its rights to pass the charges on to the end user. In this case, though, we believe that forgiveness of the charge would have been the better option, by far, for the operator. While we do not know what the markup was in this case, reducing the charge to a still-onerous €5,000 does not really solve the problem, from a customer relations point of view.
While it is true that users have the responsibility of informing themselves about surcharges and terms of service in advance, we take this story as a warning to service providers that full transparency coupled with aggressive publication of relevant information is essential in avoiding situations like the present one. Bill shock at this level is bound to end in public-relations disaster for any operator. Whatever the outcome of the German lawsuit, it will not make this operator look good, either to existing subscribers or potential subscribers.