Cell Phone Customers: Don’t Let Data Charges Drain Your Wallet

Are those data charges taking a big chunk out of your wallet each month?

Dear Consumer Advisor,
I recently used my cell phone to access the Internet, and the resulting bill was much, much higher than what I expected. Can you explain some of the charges that appeared on my bill, and tell me how to avoid them?

Sincerely, Avoiding Data


Dear Avoiding Data,

What is a data usage or data connection charge?
These are per-kilobyte charges for items downloaded from the Internet onto your phone, including games, news, radio, music, ringtones, etc. These can take a big bite out of your wallet, so if you use them a lot you’re better off signing up for a service with unlimited usage of the feature you want, whether it is mobile radio, music, or anything else.

Remember, standard cell phone plans don’t include any special deals on downloads, and the salesperson may not offer you any, so it is up to you to ask for what you want, and research your options before you purchase anything.

What is the cost for downloading ringtones and graphics?
All ringtones and graphics are charged a one-time per-usage fee. But don’t be fooled by relatively low fees for these items. You may also be charged the data fees described above, either for the number of kilobytes or minutes used for the download, depending on your plan. These charges can stack up quickly if you don’t pay close attention. Again, the key to avoiding nasty surprises in your bill is to choose the plan with the appropriate bundle for your usage, or sign up for an unlimited plan to avoid per-usage charges.

Will my phone or bill show me how many kilobytes I am using?
Not necessarily. Nor is it always easy to predict the cost of downloads. Charges vary, even for the same activity, due to factors including the amount of data associated with the particular application (e.g. game, ringer, e-mail, etc.), whether additional data is used in accessing, transporting and routing this information, data from partial or interrupted downloads, re-sent data, data associated with unsuccessful attempts to reach websites or use applications, the specific application itself, network performance, etc.

I have seen data charges reach into the thousands of dollars. For wireless carriers, this is great, because this means their profits are growing by leaps and bounds. But for consumers, it is best to stay on top of all the new charges that come with the ever-expanding technology of cell phones.

A good rule of thumb is don’t do anything before you know what it will cost you. These charges can be confusing. Don’t hesitate to demand explanations from your carrier.

Please note that CPUC has no jurisdiction over cable or Internet complaints. Contact the FCC  for complaints regarding interstate phone service, international calling some cell phone issues, cable and internet complaints.  Click here to file an FCC complaint:  http://www.fcc.gov/complaints.  Or call:  1-888-225-5322

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