How telcos rape the little guy

powwownow_1Imagine my surprise this morning when I found that my Spanish cell phone was blocked. When this happens with Vodafone Spain, it doesn’t matter what number you try to call, you get a recorded message telling you that you’ve reached the limit (of whatever) and need to fix the problem. It has never happened before so I was genuinely puzzled.

I am a BIG consumer of telco services with phones for the UK, US and Spain. At one time I also had a phone for Australia. I confidently expect my monthly telco charges to be in nose bleed territory. It goes with the turf. Even so and with a flawless track record of payment I could not understand what had happened. Three failed calls, each lasting 15 minutes, five aborted attempts to access my online account and I was still no wiser.

When I finally managed to get through I was told I had exceeded my international calling quota. WTF?

I’ve almost exclusively gone over to using Powwownow for those calls since the telcos appear to have crippled VoIP traffic, rendering Skype almost useless. According to the blurbs (see illustration at the top of the page), I should be charged around €4/hour for those calls or €0.067 per minute. But…in the small print they do say this might not be the actual cost. Indeed it is not.

Vodafone Spain, in common with the other cartel phone operators treats 902 (and 901) numbers as ‘special.’ These are charged at a whopping powwownow-3€0.48 per minute (see the illustration to the left) if called from a mobile device. My understanding is the cost falls dramatically if you call from a fixed line but in common with many other people, I don’t have access to a fixed line.  According to Just Landed, these ‘special’ numbers cost €0.36 per minute.

From what I can discover, 901 and 902 numbers are mostly used for ‘customer hotlines.’ At those prices, who would use them?

One interpretation is that I am an idiot for not realising that I’d end up getting shafted by a telco. Some colleagues think this is the new normal. Anyway, lessons learned, even if somewhat painful. What’s going on?

The telcos are under enormous pressure. In countries that have been economically damaged by the recession and rising unemployment, revenues and profit are down dramatically. We’re talking double digits. Rather than take an intelligent view about how to motivate us to use more services, the telcos simply charge as much as they feel they can get away with for a service that is steadily declining in quality.

For example, when I went to upgrade my phone, I found that my unlimited internet access bandwidth has disappeared even though I am happy to pay more for the monthly tariff. A miserly 500MB per month for €45 when I was getting unlimited for €9 per month with the old phone. With data rich services mushrooming around us, this kind of predatory practice is totally unacceptable.

In the UK, I managed to get some good sense out of Carphone Warehouse and am now on a monthly plan that gives me that all important unlimited data plan at £23/month. I am getting what I need and it is hassle free. In the US, I have a great service from Virgin Mobile and at exceptional value for money – $25/month. So why not in Spain?

What is truly worrisome is that some of the highest charges in the world are being foisted upon people who live and/or work in some of the worst performing economies or economies where the poor are indescribably poor.

Make sense to you?

I’ll be at Mobile World Congress later this month. You can be sure I will be bitching and moaning about it there to anyone willing to listen.

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