18 Dec 2014

Work with me here, Verizon

Yesterday, in rapid succession, I received three texts from Verizon Wireless. The first told me that I’d used 75% of my data for this billing cycle. The second told me I’d used 90%. The third told me I’d gone over. This was in the span of about a minute.

VZW's helpful texts

In my 3 years on this plan, at this data allowance, this has never happened. Of the 2GB in my monthly plan, I’ve rarely used more than 1GB.

According to VZW, I had a really busy 3 minutes.

Conveniently, Verizon Wireless enables users to see their data usage broken down into very discrete time slices, and when I logged in to look, I found what can only be described as a pretty remarkable data point:

O RLY?

According to Verizon’s records, I used 1.755 GB of data in a single three-minute period. At first, I thought this was completely impossible, but in fact, the LTE standard supports a maximum download speed of 100 Mbit/s. That would translate to a maximum possible usage of just under 2.2 GB for that time span.

How did that happen?

So what the hell was my phone doing between 5:56 and 5:59 yesterday evening? I happened to be driving at the time; my phone was running Waze and iTunes, and some apps like Mail were doing their thing in the background - but this is how the phone has operated the entire time and I’ve never had a problem.

There’s one other possibility - during the drive I started listening to an iTunes playlist, and four of the songs on the playlist were not downloaded to the phone, so I downloaded them. It is certainly possible that something went wrong there, but four songs does not add up to 1.755 GB or anything close to it - more like 20 MB at an average of 5 MB per song.

As it so happens, I streamed (rather than downloaded) audio once this month, for about an hour, and so we have a useful comparison:

Huh?

I have almost never streamed music to my phone, so it is actually serendipitous that I had done that because we can see three things very plainly as a result:

  1. The overwhelming majority of the time, my data usage is very low.
  2. A full hour of audio streaming weighs in at about 303MB of usage.
  3. The usage attributed to the mysterious 3-minute window goes way beyond anything that I’ve done with the phone, and is not explained even if we factor in the download of four songs.

So what’s the deal?

I’ve opened a formal dispute with VZW, and they are going to audit my cell phone usage data from the towers directly. The CSR I spoke with warned me that this would reveal all of the services that my phone was accessing at the time. No worries there; if my phone randomly freaked out and downloaded 1.7 GB of data, I want to know exactly where the hell it came from.

The only thing that annoys me about all of this is that it will take VZW a number of days to compile the usage data from the cell towers. That means that when my billing period ends on Monday, I will be socked with the overage charges associated with this extraneous usage. The only way to prevent this is to change to a higher data plan and pay the additional $20 for that instead of whatever the overage charges will be.

The CSR has assured me that I will be refunded if VZW finds that I am not at fault, but this feels like a really shitty way to treat customers.

A cautionary tale.

Bleh. Just another reminder that at the end of the day, you still need to check your bills and make sure you aren’t paying for what you didn’t use… I’ll update this post when VZW comes back to me with their verdict on the usage.

 

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