Vodafone data charges - an open letter to Jakub Hrabovsky, Head of Web Relations

For previous information concerning Vodafone's data charges, see the timeline of events here

Hi Jakub,

Thanks for your most recent email. As I said previously, I do appreciate you taking the time to reply - plenty of major companies wouldn't.

I'm going to make this a public reply, just so everyone is absolutely sure why we are continuing to pursue this. In return, I will happily publish any response, unedited.

First, let me apologise if you feel I have edited your previous responses before publishing; I would point out the editing was of whole sentences, and that I only removed the constant repetition concerning Vodafone's stance on this matter - that Vodafone believes only a minority of customers exceed their 500MB FUP allowance, and that Vodafone has always reserved the right to charge for excessive use. These points are well documented.

You state Bitterwallet has been unfair to Vodafone and our readers by claiming the company has been inconsistent in its message concerning data charges. I would absolutely deny this. I want to walk you through the communications from both Vodafone and yourself, and prove how inconsistent and ambiguous the information has been:

6 May

The first post on this matter stated:

"We are planning to introduce Out Of Bundle charging for Pay Monthly customers from 1st June 2010... whilst you've all previously been used to there not being any Out Of Bundle charging, the current information available online is clear in explaining that we could introduce such charging at any time."

The current contracts reserves Vodafone the right to charge for what they consider excessive use, not introduce Out of Bundle charges. The two are certainly not the same. "Out of Bundle" means the new charges fall outside the remit of the core agreement, whereas a FUP means such charges are part of it. A customer can't exceed a FUP within the terms of their contract one month, and then exceed it the next but not be within the terms of the same contract. That's a nonsense.

Both lead to the same outcome - that customers can be charged for exceeding their 500MB FUP. The difference is that one requires customers be given notice of the charges and, in particular cases, the right to cancel without fee. The other does not.

7 May

A new statement in the forums (which has now been deleted) read:

Definition of excessive use?
Excessive use is listed in the current Terms and Conditions and applies for now, but when Out Of Bundle charging is introduced, the terms will be amended and so this won’t apply.

Unfortunately, the Terms and Conditions don't define 'excessive use' at all. It was only defined by Vodafone a week later [after this particular statement] as being all usage over 500MB, contradicting all past definitions by Vodafone staff which said some usage over 500MB wasn't considered excessive. There's an area of ambiguity here.

Also, Vodafone clearly states here that terms will be amended. Under the terms of Vodaone's contract and Ofcom's General Conditions, Vodafone would have to give 30 days notice (although in Ofcom's case, only if the changes were likely to be detrimental).

Will I be allowed to cancel my account under Clause 7?
We’ ll be giving you 14 days’ notice before introducing Out Of Bundle charging which complies with clause 7a.

Since Vodafone have already stated they are introducing Out of Bundle charges on 1 June, customers might assume this means receiving notice 14 days before 1 June. There's an area of ambiguity here.

11 May

In June we'll be introducing a free text service to tell our contract customers when they're approaching the upper limit of their data bundle. As the vast majority of our mobile internet subscribers (more than 97 percent) never reach the limit they will not be receiving the text alerts at all.

In this statement, all mention of the data charges being new has been dropped. Instead the statement focuses on the text alerts, which were barely mentioned in the 6 May statement. So are the charges new, are they existing charges, or are they increases to existing charges? There's an area of ambiguity here.

The 97% figures is mentioned. I bring this up again, because using it in the context of 500MB is misleading - your staff and yourself have done this several times as I've highlighted in past emails, but you have now told us twice the figure is for all mobile internet data bundles; these are your previous comments to us:

BW: when quoting the 97% figure, are you referring to data allowances of 500MB only, or all data allowances of all sizes that are available?

JH: I think I’m repeating myself here when I say that it’s for all our mobile internet bundle subscribers. So yes, all data allowances.

The 97 percent figure pertains to all mobile internet data bundles which are 500 Gb [sic] for all mobile internet enabled handsets in our portfolio with the exception of Nexus One and iPhone which are at 1GB.

Because this figure also includes 1GB bundles, it cannot be used to refer to the usage of 500MB allowances, because customers with higher data limits will be less likely to reach them, thereby inflating that percentage. It's impossible to draw any conclusion at to how many 500MB customers exceed their monthly allowance.

Without reference to specific handsets, what is the percentage of customers with a smartphone and a 500MB allowance that exceed their monthly allowance? Customers have asked, as have we, and there's been no answer. You keep repeating that it's a minority, so it seems the figures are available.

If after receiving several such alerts, over a period of few months, customers continue to use excessive amounts of data they will be contacted by Vodafone and advised to upgrade to another data plan to avoid incurring unnecessary additional charges.

How many alerts? Over how many months? This was simply more ambiguity, at a time when customers were asking for clarity.

Note: 500MB means you can read and reply to thousands of emails, download 24 Google maps and read 8,000 BBC News stories. Today, a tiny fraction of our customers use their full allowance.

You've already agreed to take a look at this, but I would strenuously make the point that most websites are not optimised for mobile browsers. The BBC News website certainly isn't; I've just opened the top story on my iPhone and it was 87K. If you can make 8,000 new stories of that size fit into 500MB, you've just discovered a new branch of mathematics. Browsing the web on a mobile device invariably means browsing full-size web pages, not WAP sites. The example as it stands is ambiguous at best, and at worst, misleading.

Current Statement

Vodafone initially told customers it is introducing new Out of Bundle charges.  Then this statement says there are no changes to charges (Question 17), yet the same statement also states there is no previously published rate for these charges (Question 15)? Surely you can appreciate why this is confusing and ambiguous? It doesn't make sense.

Also, this statement does not mention giving customers the right to cancel without penalty, as previous statements did. Do they still have the right or not?

Our emails

Finally, there's a matter of clarification on the information you have provided us on different dates:

BW: Will there be a change to standard terms from 1 June?

JH: Yes, there will be minor changes; in particular in the price plan documentation outlining the process of notifying customers before they incur out of bundle charges

BW: Are you still introducing new charges on 1 June? Are you still modifying the contracts of existing customers, as you confirmed to us that you were?

JH: We’ve never confirmed that we’d be modifying contracts of our existing customers. We will not be sending a blanket notification as we do not believe that we have made a change to our terms.

The statements made by your staff in the forums also confirm there will be a modification of the terms. I don't know if you're just making me work to get an answer here, but are there to be changes or not? Will there be changes to the terms of contracts for new customers only, or all customers? Or will there be no changes?

To summarise, these are our concerns with the statements made by Vodafone to date:

  • Vodafone is taking a clause included in the core agreement - the ability to exceed the 500MB allowance and possibly be charged - and using it to introduce Out of Bundle charges. The two are being confused by Vodafone yet are not the same; one affords rights to the consumer, the other does not.
  • communications from Vodafone have been and remain to be ambiguous and confusing
  • statements from Vodafone concerning data usage have been and continue to be ambiguous and misleading
  • a general point: the use of mobile data and applications is rising rapidly, and this includes applications that stream media or are otherwise data-intensive. Vodafone does not block these applications, many of which users must pay for, nor does Vodafone warn customers that using them may severely restrict their data usage in the future. Yet from a customer's point of view, streaming music on a radio app or Spotify for a couple of hours a day or watching videos isn't 'excessive' - it's considered normal because from their point of view, Vodafone has allowed them to do so.
  • whatever the number of customers with a 500 MB FUP that exceed their monthly allowance, it is only going to increase over the next two years. You keep quoting the (incorrect) statistic for usages at the moment, but you are introducing charges which will have ramifications well beyond the present. It simply doesn't matter when Vodafone repeatedly claim a minority of customers are affected in the here and now; every single projection available of mobile data consumption shows it going through the roof in the next two years. That is why we're not prepared to let this drop until Vodafone can be fair and honest with its customers over this matter.

Finally, in your most recent email to Bitterwallet, you signed off with:

Last but not least, let the customer judge the outcome of the situation and don’t presume all customers are upset.

I'm not presuming all customers are upset and neither should you, because Vodafone hasn't told the majority of them about the charges. Vodafone seemingly isn't going to tell anyone outside their forum about new charges that specifically relate to a clause within their core agreement. Vodafone has to inform all customers of the situation in a fair and honest way, not in a year's time when they discover new applications for their mobile, only to find that using them will mean having to pay more.

These changes will affect all customers for the remainder of their contract - the reason Vodafone hasn't informed them, I suspect, is because you appreciate what the likely reaction will be.




  • Iain
    Excellent summary of the Vodafone muddy water plans for data charges. I'm upset and I'm a customer. Well done bitter wallet!
  • Daniel Z.
    Spot on mate!
  • Rich
    Very well done if I were a vodafone customer I would site them this then tell them where to stick it and contact the OFT.
  • Smithdogg
    Damn good timing. I've just had a phone call from Vodafone in reply to the letter I sent - a modified version of the template you provided - and they say it's very likely that I will be able to cancel, but not until my first bill comes through with the new charges. Apparently I need that as "proof" that I will breach my 500mb limit, even though i've used an average of about 800mb every month so far. And they tried to sell me that "97% of our users don't go near the limit...." bullshit.
  • Kevin
    I've had the same thing Smithdogg. They told me "when" they ring me I "may" be able to cancel if its over 10%... there is no "may" about it... from the T&C, i 'will' be able to. But as BW say the whole thing is VERY ambiguous, I just doubt they will ring me as i'll probably be on a list of "will cancel if ring about data, so dont ring"
  • Klingelton
    Right on BW. power to the people. Although not on Voda myself, i have a close friend who is and WILL be affected by it as he is as heavy as myself interms of internet useage. Voda, it simply just doesn't cut the mustard. When i called voda up last year to ask for an internet bundle to be added to my account as i was headed to cornwall, i asked them to explain how 500mb was "unlimited". obviously he couldn't. He proceeded to tell me that the 500mb limit was not one set by Voda, but was set by the internet authorities. A governing body of internets i've not been made aware of in my career. I switched from Voda shortly after that level of bullshit.
  • joanna
    I've heard Vodafone is telling people that they should not be using their phones as modems, if this is true how come they publish a step by step guide on their webstie on how I can connect my blackberry curve to my laptop to use as a modem and gain access to the internet using my laptop and their data service. I'm sure there are guides for other phones as well.
  • W R.
    Great letter. Vodafone, this isn't rocket science. You've been caught with your pants down, either backdown or allow customers to exit their contracts without penalty.
  • Mobile G.
    Fuck Vodafone. O2, Orange, T-Mob, 3 > That Shower.
  • Andy
    I am a vodafone customer and not a heavy data user (don't go over the 500mb limit) but I will be going over the limit until the bill comes in and cancel my contract. No longer a vodafone fan.
  • Tristan K.
    Great articles; however... I'm now very unclear on what can be done. I have been with Voda for a few years now and have been screwed over countless times. Can I just send that template to them, or should I ring them.... Bit confused but I'd appreciate any help as I want out of their regime! Tristan
  • Klingelton
    @Tristan Lube up and bend over.
  • Brad
    Id like to say im not a Vodafone customer and am very interested in the outcome, as usually when one does it and gets away with it they all start, remember 12 month contracts? not any more if you want to get a phone better then a Nokia 8210, all you can get is 18 now, even though phone warranty only lasts for 12 months! Even as non customer I am still 'upset', upset enough to never consider joining Vodafone in future.
  • hi o.
    People have to realise where all this is coming from. ALL mobile phone companies paid way, way, way too much for their 3G licences. They were (and still aren't ) worth no where near what they paid for them. so now they have to screw that money back in whatever way they can. if that means screwing their customers over by whatever means necessary, to get those extra pennies, then so be it. They have shareholders to pay dividends to. Customers aren't important, their money is.
  • Tristan K.
    any serious ideas guys.... @klingeltn - happily :)
  • Paul S.
    Hi Tristan, The previous template as it stands won't really work. I would still expect to see Vodafone announce new charges globally since they're pertain to a clause in the core agreement. We're working through some information with people cleverer than us, and we'll get back to you soon. P
  • Tristan K.
    thats awesome, thanks for that.
  • oz
    The new democracy of technology holding the great and good to account. Good on you bitterwallet, i'm not a voda customer neither would I be a breacher, but just for the sheer blair type lawer speak i would cancel and go elsewhere. Calling all voda customers ditch them and give BW an average monthly bill total so they can totalise and tell the corporate shisters how much they are loosing.
  • dunfyboy
    You had me, right up to that extra O in losing. If 97% of their customers never get close to using 500mb/month, why don't VF introduce cheaper packages with lower limits? Oh, that's right. They like shafting their customers. And by the way VF, you're firmware is shit. Just leave mobiles as manufacturers intended.
  • Vodafone B.
    [...] we wait to see whether Vodafone reply to our (rather lengthy) open letter to them concerning the nebulosity of their new data charges and restrictions, avid Bitterwallet [...]
  • Vodafone B.
    [...] now you know what you’re dealing with. A couple of weeks ago we sent an open letter to Jakub Hrabovsky, Head of Web Relations at Vodafone, after he claimed our coverage of the company’s “consistent” message concerning [...]
  • Chris W.
    Hi, Following this with great interest as my wife has sent a registered letter off to cancel her contract and has had no reply, not even a phone call. She expects to be using google navigation whenn it is released which will be data hungry, and will now no longer be able to. Like most large organisations treat their customers like crap once they have you.
  • Paul
    I cant believe this is going on, i cant believe this 'company' which are actually human beings are and are willing to treat and dismiss us all so unfairly in this way this makes me feel physically sick its absolutly vile! I myself was one of the first wave of people to be affected by this. First thing i knew was recieving a bill for £1400 do these people realise how this can affect an individual? One day im struggling through life trying my best to stay above water then im forced into masses of debt that i didnt ask for or could handle not only debt but my phone was cut off 'taken from me', my credit profile has been ruined by these scum the worst it can be bar bankrupt (which i have considered to get these bullying scum away from me) which these days has massive ramifications one example I now have a baby girl whom i would dearly love to get a mortgage on a home for us to live in and have a nice family life and mabye pass it on to her but this vision has been ruined for now. Creditors started sending threatening letters all the time increasing this fraudulant debt, which became worse as threats of bailifs coming into my home to remove all my worldly goods i have worked hard for! I couldnt see many options for me i obviously tried contacting voda and exhausting all avenues i.e. in my t&c it stated that no FUP internet user can or will be charged whithout prior warning and contact for exceeding the 'unlimited' capped 500mb limit i think i actually used about 630mb and was charged £7.50 per mb for going over without any prior warning. i must have spent over 100 hours on the phone pleading and begging for someone to listen. I also tried the vode forum but all my accounts and posts were promptly deleted, but as with all other people i have been lied to treated like dirt and passed for pillar to post. So with no help and my newly found debt i left my home that was in my name and my things in it and that is the last time i have had those privelidges, for nearly 3 years now i have not had my name or address on ANYTHING not house, phone, bank, doctors, dentist i have not been able to get a house in my name council tax anything ( because these debt companys will do anything including breaching data protection laws to access your information) im having to live my life like a criminal on the run because of what these people have done to me. I wounder if these people can imagine or even care the pain and greif that they have caused by doing this to me, smashed my confidence, taken years of my life, credit profile (i feel silly saying this but it is important in todays society, i would hate to try and think about how many days and nights i have laid up in floods of tears from the worry and stress of this situation. One things for sure they very nearly didnt get the chance because i have considered taking my life on many occasions because of the hole i have been bullied into, and the law appears to be on these peoples side!?!? As for this 97% of people who arnt affected who cares??????? You are screwing at least 3% by your figures of your customers over.. Lets say for arguements sake you have 1 million customers 3% of that is 30000 individuals lets say again for arguements sake you have as in my case fraudulantly over charged them by £100 ( i was charged £1400 and i have seen photos on the net of voda bills for £9800 and £25,000 thats right! so i think £100 is fair) thats £3million extorted embezled pounds. Failing that and i dont mean to come across selfish just tring to make a point you have ruined my life, just one person not even nearly a percent and you could have easly helped me by not being purposly beligerant at evey possible occasion... Im just lost for words. Vodafone, england and the justice system have completly failed me.
  • Stan
    I have just discovered (Feb 2011) the 500mb limit! I then did some research. Check out section 15 of the T&Cs. If you have an UNLIMITED service, you can have VOIP and peer to peer comms. And if you are limited, you can't. Now the "new" limit is in place, Voda have actually made a substantial change to the service, accidentally maybe. And THAT requires a 30 day notice, which they didn't give. I am complaining to Ofcom.

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