Phone Companies Could Be Overcharging You for Data

Molly Wood Sep 16, 2012

Turns out, the phone company could be overcharging you for going online while you’re mobile. Researchers at UCLA compared how much data smartphones used while connected to the internet to what the phone company was charging (read their paper here). In areas of lousy coverage, some customers were billed for data that never showed up. Tom Simonite at MIT’s Technology Review says one researcher was trying to watch a video on his phone while riding the train…

“And then the train went into a tunnel, he lost the signal, and the video cut out and he didn’t get to watch any more of it, but the carrier kept sending data his way. As far as their system could tell, data was being streamed to his device. And so when the bill came in, there was about 7 percent more data on his bill than he had actually been able to use on his device.”

According to paper co-author Chunyi Peng, it’s an architectural problem–an issue of how carriers measure data–and maybe not a malicious one. But considering how confusing a cell phone bill can be (have you ever looked at all those separate line items?), it’s a problem in need of a solution. Especially now that nearly half of us are using the kind of phones that could potentially play video and use other streaming capabilities. 

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