What do you when you turn off of your computer and modem and still manage to receive a bill for 30 to 88MB internet usage per day over a three day period? How about being billed for 73GB over a five hour period when your connection is not physically capable of doing so? These issue are getting headline press again in Australia and the prognisis is not good for the hapless service providers.

Australia is one market where ‘all you can eat’ data plans have been ignored in favour of capped plans. That’s great for service providers but it means they must ensure that their usage information collection and billing are deadly accurate and able to cope with the anomalies of internet usage such as external access via malware. Telstra’s BigPond ISP seems to be attracting the brunt of bad publicity recently, all around customers receiving large bills for usage they claim haven’t used.

In a discussion on a telecommunications forum, Whirlpool.net.au, one post referred to a apparent screenshot of a BigPond customer’s usage for one month totaling 52 million megabytes (52 terabytes).

Another customer, Robert MacMillan, claimed BigPond’s usage meter was recording about 20MB to 120MB a night worth of usage when he had turned his modem off at certain times over consecutive days from May 11 to May 15.

Choice (Australia’s consumer advocacy group) said capped plans were notorious for confusing consumers and it was often very difficult to monitor usage.

(via Sydney Morning Herald) http://www.smh.com.au/technology/biz-tech/bill-shock-bigpond-users-charged-thousands-for-data-they-didnt-use-20090624-cw6b.html

We have highlighted a number of times the issue of ‘bill shock’ and how quickly it raises the attention of the press.  For service provider PR departments, it must be the greatest fear because one report usually raises a flurry of similar activity, as we have seen in Australia of late.  Australia’s major ISPs have so far avoided the scourge of ‘all you can eat’ plans.  At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Telstra ex-CEO, Sol Trujillo, stated that his company was in business to make money and return a profit to shareholders and that unlimited usage plans did not fit into that strategy.  He was the envy of many other CEOs that had decided to go the other way.

However, if usage metering, throttling, bursting surcharges and capped plans are the selected route there can be no chance of error when it comes to billing, as this story shows.  Most consumers are not savvy enough to understand the potential dangers of malware on their home computers nor how big any download might be. It is essential that they are warned when thresholds of usage are reached, even to the point of stopping service automatically when usage reaches a pre-agreed limit.

Nobody benefits when customers receive massive bills that could easily have been avoided by imposing some corporate responsibility and a little more education for the consumer.  If operators are not willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure to monitor and protect their customers adequately and are open to abuse by third parties then customers will leave in droves and the press will continue to expose stories like the one above.

If not, it may be more than enough reason to put ‘all you can eat’ on the menu. TP