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My hatred of US mobile phone companies isn’t something new to anyone who follows me. In the past few weeks, I’ve had multiple opportunities to complain about Verizon Wireless, due to their consistent inability to get even the simplest request right. But this one truly takes the cake. Read on for a lesson about how when a door locks, you go through a window (and cost the door a heck of a lot of money.)
I’ve been traveling abroad a lot lately, giving speeches, consulting, skydiving in the desert. You know, the usual stuff. Knowing I had multiple trips abroad coming up, I called Verizon while I was still in NYC, asking to have their International Data Roaming package installed on my plan. Essentially, it’s $20 for 100 megabytes of data, or $200 per gig. It’s expensive, but in my opinion, being connected overseas and not being tethered to WiFi is worth it. After multiple assurances that it was on my plan and wouldn’t be coming off, I trusted Verizon and hung up after thanking the rep who helped me.
My first trip took me to icy-cold Winnipeg, Canada. Upon landing, I pulled out my Samsung Galaxy S3, and turned it on. I got the X for “no signal” the second it booted up. Gave it a few minutes, figured I was in a different country, figured it was cold, etc. I waited. Nothing. By the time I’d gotten a cab, gotten to the hotel, and enabled Skype to call Verizon on my laptop, I was pissed to no end.
“Oh, yes sir. It says it’s on your account, but for some reason, no one ever actually turned it on. Let me go do that now.” I remember staring at the Skype window in disbelief. That’s equivalent to your going to a gas station, the attendant putting the pump in your car, but never actually pumping your gas, then charging you, and smiling and waving as you drive away with no gas.
The tech came back on the phone, told me to restart my phone, and within 30 seconds, I had the signal, and had global service. Hallelujah. So that was Winnipeg. Stupid me for thinking that Verizon’s “global service plan” would actually work “globally.”
The following week, I flew to Dubai. Landing for the first time in this new-to-me land, I turned on my phone, and was thrilled to see not the “X,” but the signal for both phone and data. Hallelujah. $20 for 100 megabytes, here we come. And with that, I checked into the Dubai airport on FourSquare while my email populated.
That’s when I got my first “warning” message via text from Verizon Wireless. “Warning: Your roaming charges have currently exceeded $50.” I’m not even joking when I tell you that by this point, I HADN’T EVEN GOTTEN OFF THE PLANE.
So after getting through Immigration, and while waiting for my driver, I did what I loathe to do the most, and called Verizon again. And sure enough, “Carl” was nice enough to tell me the following:
“Oh, yeah, sorry sir, but your plan only works in certain countries. Dubai isn’t one of them.”
I don’t know what angered me more – That Verizon assumes that Americans only travel to Mexico and Canada, or that THEY NEVER BOTHERED TO TELL ME THAT THEIR ROAMING PLAN WASN’T TRULY GLOBAL.
That’s it. Time to fight back. I got to my hotel about 8pm, and after dropping my bags, jumped in a cab to the Dubai Mall. Once there, I found an electronics store that carried every phone known to man. I picked up the Galaxy Grand for $350, (the Note II in America) and then walked down the escalator to the Du store (equivalent of Verizon in Dubai.) I there bought a pre-paid 25 Gigabyte SIM card that works all over the UAE, for $100.
So for $450, I now had an unlocked, global mobile phone I could take all over the world, and 25 Gigabytes of data. That’s it. No other charges, no hidden fees.
A week later, as I got on board my flight to go home, I looked at my new phone’s data usage. Over six days in Dubai, I’d used 1,516 megabytes, or about 1.3 gigabytes of data. I had no additional charges, I still have over 23.5 Gigabytes left for my next trip, and most importantly, Verizon didn’t get a PENNY of that.
Here’s the killer thing though. If I hadn’t checked my phone, and just taken Verizon at the word of the initial rep who put global on my phone and told me it was “all good,” (her words,) I would have come back to America to find a Verizon Wireless bill waiting for me to the tune of more than $31.047.68. Yup. That’s not a joke. Do the math yourself: $20.48 per MEGABYTE. And you know damn well they wouldn’t have listened to any argument I would have made on dropping the amount owed. “Sorry, it’s policy.”
So here’s my question – How is it possible that in this global data society – In a world of status updates and Instagrams, of Tweets and mobile videos, how is it possible that Verizon thinks it’s ok to charge $20.48 per megabyte? PER MEGABYTE? To put it into perspective, they’re charging, for data, the equivalent of $4.00 for every second of a download of “Gangnam Style.”
It’s not. And for me, there was a way around it, and it cost Verizon a LOT of my business.
The lesson here, though, is that there is ALWAYS a way around problems, whether they’re personal, professional, or with a wireless company who doesn’t realize their relevance has passed. Stuck because of a closed highway? Take a back road, and be richer for the experience. Flight canceled? Turn to the person to your left and share a rental car. You’ll make a new friend and get there anyway. Can’t get someone to come around to your way of thinking? Come around to theirs, and work backwards to a middle ground.
I’m writing this on a flight to London, where Verizon’s $20 for 100 megabyte rule actually does apply. But guess what? I’m not going to need it, thanks to the unlocked phone I bought in Dubai. I’m simply going to swap the SIM card out and replace it with a local one I’ll buy in the airport when I land. That’s probably easily, $200-$300 that Verizon won’t get from me while I’m here.
End result? The rules can be changed, and we can be the ones to change them. And Verizon Wireless? Sorry, guys. But I never need you internationally again. Long term? I don’t show any signs of quitting overseas speaking or consulting… So how much did your shortsightedness cost you over the next 20 years? $50k? $100k? Only time will tell.
PS: I picked up my London SIM card today: Unlimited data, 3,000 texts, 120 minutes of voice. Cost? $36.00.
PPS: Before you tell me “oh, all companies operate this way,” let me say this – About three months ago, I got a new AmEx card – It had a chip in it. (you know, like every other country’s credit cards do, except the US.) I called to ask why, they said “we monitored your spending, and notice that you charge a lot overseas. This should help you.” And it did – My AmEx now works in every card reader, not just magnetic stripe ones. No extra charge, no additional cost, no extra contract – Just a new card and a “this should help you.” So guess what – American Express, the big, massive, global credit card company – They get it. Why is it so hard for other companies?
Thoughts? As always, leave them in the comments, and I thank you for reading.