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iPhone Bill a Whopping 52 Pages Long 369

Posted by Zonk
from the make-the-trees-stop-crying dept.
PoliTech writes "iPhone bills are surprisingly large - 'Xbox Large', according to Ars technica: 'AT&T's iPhone bills are quite impressive in their own right. We're starting to get bills for the iPhone here at Ars, and while many of us have had smartphones for some time, we've never seen a bill like this. One of our bills is a whopping 52 pages long, and my own bill is 34 pages long. They're printed on both sides, too. What gives? The AT&T bill itemizes your data usage whenever you surf the Internet via EDGE, even if you're signed up for the unlimited data plan. AT&T also goes into an incredible amount of detail to tell you; well, almost nothing. For instance, I know that on July 27 at 3:21 p.m. I had some data use that, under the To/From heading, AT&T has helpfully listed as Data Transfer. The Type of file? Data. My total charge? $0.00. This mind-numbing detail goes on for 52 double-sided pages (for 104 printed pages!) with absolutely no variance except the size of the files.' You would think that a data company would have a more efficient billing process."
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iPhone Bill a Whopping 52 Pages Long

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  • AT&T Billing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fatman22 (574039) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:38PM (#20204859)
    Somewhere down inside the quagmire that is AT&T's billing system, you'll probably still find an active tariff for leasing crank-style (think "Lassie") phones to customers. It has never been updated to intelligently handle more recent uses of their communications systems, and heaven forbid you should ever ask one of their people to explain a charge or how to lower the cost of your "service". That's one of several reasons I refuse to do business with them anymore.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:40PM (#20204883) Homepage

    They're preparing you for the day when they start data usage charges. "Unlimited usage" might be just an introductory rate plan. The telcos want to charge you for every download, and clearly they have the billing system in place to do it. You think they went to all the trouble to implement that when it doesn't generate revenue?

  • AT&T are too kind (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eebra82 (907996) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:42PM (#20204899) Homepage
    There's nothing wrong with being thorough and precise. I think people would complain more if it was the opposite; no details whatsoever. Unfortunately, AT&T decided to do this the paper route instead of just supplying its customers with online, on-demand details. After all, no iPhone owner lacks an internet connection.
  • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:42PM (#20204905)
    The thing that I find even more disturbing than the $3000 bill is this: "I'm a web developer as part of my career and I couldn't even tell you how many KB the average web page is, no less a text message to my son, an e-mail with a photo to my mother, or a quick check of Google Maps." I can only assume that optimization isn't in this guy's vocabulary.
  • by Space cowboy (13680) * on Sunday August 12, 2007 @03:50PM (#20204971) Journal
    Not sure why it's anything to do with *Apple* at all.

    There are apparently some ancient (ie regarding POTS calls) laws about what has to be reported to the customer. AT&T is just obeying the law. If you think it's a stupid law (hint: for datacomms, it is), then sign up for e-billing and save a forest or two...

    Who knows, in some other reality, AT&T might even pass on some savings to you if you do... No postage, no paper costs...

    Simon
  • I don't know, that doesn't seem too unreasonable. I mean, I could take a pretty good guess at how big the web pages I write are and how big the images I use are, but just by glancing at any random webpage I don't think my guess would be pretty accurate. Likewise I think it's difficult to guess what would be an "average" size for a webpage. There are just too many variables involved.
  • Re:AT&T are too kind (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <mikesd1&verizon,net> on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:06PM (#20205075) Homepage
    "AT&T decided to do this the paper route instead of just supplying its customers with online, on-demand details."

    Well, first of all they do have paperless billing online. But not everyone has internet connection, or high speed internet, and I tell you from experience, you need broadband to pull one of those bad boys down. Second, I'm not sure I'd want to try to pull all that information via the iPhone given how big the file will be....you're next bill may be a little more pricey.
  • by JonTurner (178845) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:14PM (#20205143) Journal
    I'm surprised they haven't added a "paper and/or postage surcharge" for a 50+ page bill. I know it requires extra postage, but can one even mail a 50 page document using a standard envelope?

    Considering how much the environmental activists pressured Apple to use "greener" manufacturing and packaging, I'm a little surprised they're not taking Apple & the carrier to task for this remarkable waste of paper. I would think there's as much material in one 50-page bill as the iPhone packaging! One or two bills therefore completely undoes any of the efforts to make the product packaging more efficient. Penny wise, pound foolish, as they say.
  • Re:AT&T are too kind (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the unbeliever (201915) <chris+slashdot&atlgeek,com> on Sunday August 12, 2007 @04:34PM (#20205273) Homepage
    Actually, the vast majority of cell phones at retail cost $400-500

    Most providers just subsidize the phone cost into your contract, if you take the sale price.

    "Fair" would be not having to have a contract.
  • by MikeFM (12491) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @05:03PM (#20205529) Homepage Journal
    Be glad your not an employee. When I worked at Cingular it was a nightmare when customers called in and wanted you to explain their bills. It's so complex and ass backwards that often nobody that works for Cingular can even tell you what it all means. It's pretty stupid when you have to pow wow with two or three managers to get a decent guess at what the bill is trying to say. It's a definate case of information overload being used to hide the real content from customers.
  • Re:AT&T Billing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RobertM1968 (951074) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @05:15PM (#20205609) Homepage Journal

    Actually, it goes even further than this... if you look at the Wiki page, you will notice a scary trend that the general populace (that was so concerned in days gone about breaking up "Ma Bell") has missed.

    Namely, Verizon/ATT/___Bell/Ameritech/SBC/ConTel/ManyMore are all pretty much two (one) big conglomerates once again. Many are subsidiaries of the other or have controlling interests in each other.

    For instance, with this one as an example (ATT Mobility), they WERE wholly owned by SBC/ATT and BellSouth... until ATT merged/bought back BellSouth (and Ameritech, and Pacific Telesis, and Southern New England Telecommunications. Verizon and the other Bell "subsidiaries" own pretty much most of the rest...

    All that really leaves is the re-merger of ATT & Verizon and the large majority of phone services (land and cellular) will once again be all Ma Bell.

  • by value_added (719364) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @05:39PM (#20205745)
    That's why you surf the lighter-weight versions of pages: http://slashdot.org/palm/ [slashdot.org] gives a front page that weighs only 8 KB.

    Wow. I've been dealing with oversized, CPU-intensive sites the entire morning. My headache just disappeared.

    Seriously, I had no idea that existed. Now if I could read Slashdot in mutt (properly threaded, of course), my life would be complete. Hell, I'd pony up a fat subscription fee for such a service ... providing I didn't get an itemized bill of the time I wasted, of course.
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @05:51PM (#20205825) Homepage Journal
    It's been a joke of mine that it costs the phone companies more to bill you for a phone call than it does for them to provide the phone call.

    IE they could charge everybody a flat rate, not have 'detailed billing', charge people less money overall and still make more money than under the current system.
  • by failedlogic (627314) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @06:04PM (#20205907)
    I agree with parent poster.

    I've worked for another company in the same industry and friends have worked for their competitors. We all found the respective telco company bills difficult to read - espcecially in the computer systems we were using. Its not always evident - on complex and long bills to find out what's going on. The comptuer system I used was so bad and difficult to read, I eneded up putting customers on hold sometimes, generating a bill in the computer system and printing it out.

    So if ever you do call customer service trying to explain your bill, keep in mind many of the industry players have legacy or poorly made billing systems (usually poorly made) and its quite difficult to read.
  • by homey of my owney (975234) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @06:21PM (#20206009)
    You would think that a data company would have a more efficient billing process.

    Who would think that?
  • by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <sherwinNO@SPAMamiran.us> on Sunday August 12, 2007 @06:44PM (#20206147) Homepage Journal
    Let me quote an AT&T (SBC, so yes, this represents the Cingular side) executive for you on data:

    From the Financial Times [ft.com]:
    "We have to figure out who pays for this bigger and bigger IP network," said Mr Whitacre, who was in New York ahead of AT&T's annual presentation to investors and analysts on Tuesday. "We have to show a return on our investments.?

    "I think the content providers should be paying for the use of the network, obviously not the piece from the customer to the network, which has already been paid for by the customer in Internet access fees, but for accessing the so-called Internet cloud.". . . . ."They might pass it on to their customers," he says of the fees that he wants to charge the sites.


    How does this apply to wireless, and in particular, the iPhone?

    Simple. A quote from Ed Whitacre's sucessor (Randall Stepheson, or RS: in the following interview) explains that. From Gigaom [gigaom.com] :
    OM: AT&T is a fearsome company now, with a weight of its legacy. Any first day jitters?

    RS: ... The new AT&T is wireless at the core in terms of great new handsets; in terms of enabling true anytime, anywhere mobility that our customers want and in terms of being innovative and service-oriented. If there are any jitters, it's from the excitement running through this company about our prospects.

    OM: There are a lot of challenges facing the company. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing AT&T as a company and you personally?

    RS: Our biggest challenge as a company is to ensure that our customers really understand what the new AT&T is all about. We are the most complete communications and entertainment provider for the way people live-and that starts with wireless. When people recognize that, we win. It's the same on the business side.

    My personal challenge is to make sure that the pieces we've assembled-industry-leading wireless, TV, broadband, global operations and local service work together as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

    OM: How vital is iPhone to your company? I have never seen AT&T push something so hard that wasn't developed internally. Why is that?

    RS: The iPhone is a radically innovative new device and it only makes sense that AT&T and Apple would partner to bring it to market. This device is very important to us, it's important to Apple and it is going to do very well with customers. It also reinforces with consumers that AT&T is the place to turn for the latest in wireless devices and services.


    How do I read this? AT&T feels that content providers (Google, Yahoo, AOL, CBS, etc . . .) should pay for each individual customer's access on a per-usage basis. AT&T also feels that wireless devices are the cornerstone of their future in ALL realms of connectivity, including business and entertainment.

    It only follows naturally that being able to account for *every single packet* a customer uses is part of that billing strategy. You aren't going to be billed by AT&T on that basis; they're going to bill Google et al, and you'll get a bill from the content provider. Let me quote Whitacre again: They might pass it on to their customers," he says of the fees that he wants to charge the sites. .

    Clear as day. If you don't see this coming a mile away, there's something wrong with you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 12, 2007 @07:36PM (#20206537)
    True story, my company just installed two point to point data T1s to support a remote node off of an Avaya phone system. I met the AT&T techs at each location, to provide access to the demarcation point, when they were installing the spans, everything came up fine. A few days later, the Avaya installer noticed a problem on one of the spans and asked me to open a trouble ticket with AT&T. I relayed the circuit number off of the smartjack, which one of the installer techs had applied as he finished up the install, and gave this to the person at their helpdesk. Helpdesk person says, "I have no record of this circuit, let me pass you over to Joe's group, maybe they can help you". Same response by at least 3 or 4 groups, I gave up. Good thing our company is considered a 'growth or national account', we have dedicated inhouse support personnel; my AT&T in Colorado, with his backup in Georgia, have not even replied to an email for assistance. Back in the day, this problem would have been solved in half an hour. God help us.
  • Re:XO communcations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jc42 (318812) on Sunday August 12, 2007 @09:17PM (#20207185) Homepage Journal
    I once got a bill from my (former)phone company for 0.00 bucks.

    Back in the 70s, this was an ongoing joke, often accompanied by details of the bill and the company that did it. A number of the stories had the victim finally giving in and sending a bill for $0.00, which of course the company's accounts people sent through channels (probably with big grins when they realized what the idiot computers had done). Very often, this crashed a number of the computers in the accounting chain.

    Typically, when someone investigated, it turned out that the computers were doing all calculations to a few extra decimal places, and the result was a balance less that $0.005 but greater than $0.00, and it was rounded down. The software thus saw a nonzero balance, but displayed it as zero. Why a payment of $0.00 would kill the software was never quite explained, probably out of embarrassment.

    It's fun to know that such problems are still with us. But then, the accountants still use a lot of COBOL (and even worse, RPG ;-), so it's not much of a surprise.

    I kept waiting for someone to just ignore such bills, to see them eventually go through a collection agency and end up on their credit record. It would be a lot of fun to read about the lawsuit over this. But if this has happened, I haven't ever read about it.

  • OCR? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phorm (591458) on Monday August 13, 2007 @12:27PM (#20213297) Journal
    I've often considered starting a project to make OCR systems that would be able to read the bills of common vendors for cellular service, etc. It would work best if you had a feed-style scanner (as opposed to a flatbed where you would have to insert each page once per side... not fun with 52 pages), but it could look for inconsistencies like:

    - Billing during your non-billable minutes (e.g. free evenings/weekends)
    - Billing on incoming calls (for those with free incoming)
    - Billing on calls from others on the same carrier (for those with free companycompany calling: you would need to input which friends use the same telco)
    - Incorrect tabulation of minutes/costs
    - Billing long-distance on calls made in-area

    As well as just highlighting suspicious charges.

    I recently had an issue with my cellular carrier. They happily send me a bill showing the minutes I'm being charged for (aka in excess of my 150 weekday/1000 evening/weekend+free incoming+free in-carrier calling), but they do NOT send me an accounting of the calls that used up the minutes in my plan. That means that I'm forced to trust their honesty in tabulating when my initial minutes are used up. *yeah right*
    I'm got a new bill coming in the mail, this one describing when and where the minutes of my plan were used up... it'll be interesting to see if there are any discrepancies.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 13, 2007 @04:27PM (#20216317)
    Back when one of my roommates canceled our last land line, she paid what she thought was the final bill only to receive another bill for something like $1.27. Really, what's the point? Like someone earlier in this thread said, at some point it costs more to print and mail the bill than the phone company would ever recoup from remittance.

    Anyway, having had a similar experience myself some time earlier, I advised her to pay exactly twice the amount, just to piss them off. Since she'd closed her account, they had to send her a refund check for $1.27.

    There has to be someone working at the phone company who's bright enough to realize that attempting to recover any amount less than $x is actually costing the company money. Why don't they just send a final letter that says "Look, we waived your final $1.27 in fees for your convenience, which is just one more reason why we're a great phone company!" This one mailing would cost less than mailing a bill, processing a mail-in payment, and sending a final receipt/statement.

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