Vodafone's data charges - some answers, but more questions
We've now been in contact with Vodafone over the past day, trying to determine the facts about their new data charges, but we're struggling to get a completely straight answer. There is, however, very worrying news if you are a Vodafone customer.
Last week Vodafone suggested that new charges for excess data would be automatic; there was no mention of a new service to warn users about excessive usage: "We are planning to introduce Out Of Bundle charging for Pay Monthly customers from 1st June 2010... no Out Of Bundle charges will happen this month but they will take effect from 1st June."
As a result of this, Vodafone offered to cancel contracts-without-penalty if customers would see an increase in their bill - that post has now been deleted, but you can read the text here - it clearly stated that Vodafone intended to modify the terms of customer contracts; if they do, Vodafone will be in breach of their own contract and Ofcom's General Conditions for not providing adequate notice.
Then Vodafone appeared to backtrack - the detail about modifying the terms was dropped, and instead Vodafone focussed on the fact they were enforcing the Fair Use Policy that is a standard clause in agreements. We took Vodafone to task, because they failed to answer fundamental questions about the changes, and their customers seemingly agreed; the topic on their forum has now received 1,300 posts in ten days.
Vodafone's Head of Web Relations, Jakub Hrabovsky has been in touch with Bitterwallet, so here is a selection of the dialogue from our emails:
BW: Vodafone is still talking about making some sort of change to the standard terms and conditions, and by doing so there's a question over how much notice should have been given to customers. Will there be a change come 1 June?
JH: There will be no pricing changes; we’ve always reserved the right to charge for out of bundle usage since the launch of mobile internet.
BW: The question was about the standard terms, not pricing; will there be a change to standard terms from 1 June?
We posed that final question at 5 o'clock yesterday and are still waiting to hear from Jakob. Next:
BW: Can you please provide a real-life example of a customer who reads and replies to 10,000 emails, reads 8,000 BBC news stories and uses no mobile applications whatsoever?
JH: I can’t point out individual users unfortunately but at the same time don’t want to be evasive. The reason why we quantify the data allowance in this way is that we know that 500Mb or 1GB of data used on mobiles mean very little to our customers. More importantly they want to understand how much they can use their mobile, what it’ll cost them and that the network provides superior experience.
BW: I understand the need to quantify data usage for the sake of the customer, but you haven't explained why this example fails to recognise the use of applications? Quoting data usages in terms of emails and BBC news stories is utterly meaningless in 2010. Why not an example that states 500MB allows you to watch a certain number of 3 minute YouTube videos, stream X hours of music on Spotify per month and use Facebook for X hours per week?
JH: Not sure why apps aren’t mentioned and you’re right we should look into this.
And finally, Vodafone's official clarification on what you'll be charged for 'excessive use' from 1 June, and for the rest of your contract:
JH: Nobody will incur any out of bundle charges before being sent an Text alert and contacted by Vodafone first which effectively means that you would have received two months notice before being charged.
BW: If a customer is charged for excessive use in the third consecutive month, how does play out in later months? For example, if a customer doesn't exceed 500MB in the fourth month, but then exceeds it in month five, will they be charged immediately (since they have exceeded it in the past), or will they be given another month's grace? There's no clarification on this.
JH: Once you have been contacted and consulted you may incur charges for out of bundle use at any point.
For customers with the best part of 18 or 24 months left on their contracts, that can hardly be described as a Fair Use Policy; you can can exceed 500MB in two consecutive months just once - after that, if you exceed the threshold at any time, Vodafone are happy to charge you. Can that even be considered a Fair Use Policy?
Vodafone only declared that usage above 500MB would be considered 'excessive' two days ago - before that the figure was a guide, nothing more, and 'excessive use' had no definition - Bitterwallet reader Matt was sent contract details after renewing just last month, and the figure of 500MB wasn't mentioned. On previous occasions Vodafone staff have suggested the term applies to customers using far greater amounts of data.
Vodafone still hasn't officially notified customers of the changes yet, except through their forums. When they do, we'll have more information for you.