Wapping bill shocks mother
17 January 2005
By TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Wellington company director Michelle Stokes is warning cellphone users to watch out after her 13-year-old accidently ran up a charge of $308 in less than two minutes using his Wap-enabled mobile.
Her son, Cameron, made four attempts in rapid succession to download a large PDF file from Nokia's website while trying to get instructions on how to lock the handset on his Nokia 6105 phone.
At 5 cents per kilobit for data downloaded on her Telecom pre-paid mobile phone plan, each attempt to view the 1.55 megabyte file cost $77 a pop. PDF files can't be viewed on mobile phones - hence her son's repeated attempts to click on the file.
Ms Stokes says her son had just discovered the capabilities of Wap, which lets phone users access web content from specially designed sites, but says he didn't realise the costs he was incurring. "He is a teenager. He pays for everything except the $10 text charge and the calls he makes to me and the bill is always something like $3-$15 a month."
That month her son's cellphone bill came in at $488.67, ballooning her total Telecom account to $661.81.
While some of the charges were for accessing games and downloading video clips, the PDF files accounted for the bulk of her son's activity.
"It was a shock and what annoys me is Telecom won't accept it's an unreasonable charge."
She doubts the PDF files were technically downloaded to her CDMA cellphone - which only has 2 megabytes of memory - and calculates a cellphone user connecting via Telecom's new "third generation" T3G network could rack up charges of $6000 a minute if they hit the wrong links on Wap pages.
Ms Stokes says she was initially promised a refund after first querying the bill, but was later advised the company had no record of such an offer being made. Instead, after months of emails Telecom supplied a spreadsheet detailing all the Wap sites her son had visited and offered a $200 rebate as a "goodwill" gesture.
Telecom support staffer Marc Warr told her in an email that there was "no maximum cost per minute" for Wap-usage. He said the company had met its statutory obligations in respect of advising customers of its charges.
"Telecom believes these charges to be fair and reasonable."
Telecom spokeswoman Sarah Berry says cellphone users see an alert on-screen when they surf to third party Wap websites advising them of the per kilobit download charge.
"Most people using Wap are regular users and they know how the system works and what it costs."