Determinations

TDR Case Note T003717 (2009)

Issue

Billings - charging for mobile internet usage.

Background

The customer entered into a 24-month contract with the Scheme Member Provider (Provider) for the provision of broadband services on a 1GB plan at $49.95 per month.

In September 2008, after some 20 months of data usage within the 1GB limit, the customer was charged an extra $149.97 for exceeding the monthly data allowance by an additional 1.3GB. However, in October 2008, the customer was charged $10,767.75 for using 25.8 GB of data. In November 2008, the provider advised the customer that he had an outstanding balance of $12,163.86 and that if it remained unpaid the debt would be referred to a debt collection agency, which would incur yet further charges.

The customer responded that he was a ‘novice computer user’ and had no idea how he had had accrued such a large amount. He sought a breakdown of the charges.  He stated that he was happy to pay the $49.95 monthly fee in accordance with his data plan, and claimed that he had been overcharged by the provider without any warning and that he should not have to pay for the additional charges. In January 2009 the provider explained that the reason for the high bill was the downloading of movies, and it confirmed that the data usage charges were correct although for privacy reasons, it was unable to provide a breakdown. The provider offered a goodwill credit of $4,500 but that left the outstanding debt at $11,407.29.

The customer denied that he had downloaded $11,407.29 worth of movies, and claimed to be financially unable to repay the debt. In February 2009 a debt collection agency demanded payment of $13,588.94, which included collection costs of $2,181.25. The customer brought a complaint to the TDR service.

Adjudicator’s decision

The adjudicator found that there were four main issues: (1) the accuracy of the customer’s downloaded volume of data; (2) the ability of the provider to seek payment of the disputed amount; (3) the accuracy of the disputed amount; and (4) the customer’s liability.
The customer had requested a breakdown of the charges. Provision of this information was a requirement of both the common law and the Customer Complaints Code (the Code). The privacy reason given for not providing the requested information was unclear, as a company cannot breach a person’s privacy by providing that person with their own information. At the adjudicator’s request the provider then provided the generic data use report, including the date, time and quantity of data used. As the customer did not provide a response to this data usage report, the adjudicator found that the customer had indeed downloaded the volume of data for which he had been billed.

With reference to relevant clauses in both the contract and the Code, the adjudicator found that the customer was obliged to pay the charges relating the contracted services and that the provider was entitled to seek reasonable expenses incurred in collecting any money owed.
With regard to the disputed amount, the provider advised that its goodwill offer of $4,500 would be withdrawn if the customer continued the complaint through the TDR process. The adjudicator found that there was no statement in the provider’s correspondence stating that the offer was conditional. The adjudicator therefore deducted the amount of the credited goodwill offer of $4,500 from the outstanding amount of $15,907.29, leaving a final debt of $11,407.29.

With regard to the customer’s ability to pay the disputed amount, the customer first received a higher than normal account on September 2008 for additional internet usage, which should have alerted him to potential increased costs. Furthermore, he had chosen not to make use of the optional credit limit, which would have prevented the situation from arising. The adjudicator therefore found that the customer was liable to pay the disputed amount.

Final outcome

The adjudicator concluded that the provider had not breached its contract with the customer, and had not breached the Code. Therefore no remedies were available. The customer was liable to pay for the services provided by the provider, and for the costs incurred in collecting the debt.