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Thursday, 19 November 2009

France Telecom's new monthly phone bill record: €159,000

If you've been following the story of astronomical mobile 'phone bills here in France, you'll know that in the past week two cases have made the headlines: One for over €45,000 and another for €39,500.

Well, if you thought you had heard the end of it or that those amounts were as steep as it gets, think again.

Now comes news of a bill that makes the others all but pale into insignificance - as if that were possible - one for over €159,000.

It's a case that dates back to May this year but has only just been made public and is hardly great public relations for Orange, the mobile 'phone network operator and Internet service provider of this country's main telecommunications company, France Telecom.

It involves Jean Spadaro, an accident and emergency doctor from Fontainebleau, a town 70 kilometres south east of the French capital, who back in November 2008 chose a subscription based on €30 a month which would allow him an Internet connection using a 3G key.

But as the months went by he noticed that both his use of the 'phone and naturally the size of his bills were increasing, so he decided to change his subscription.

"By April this year I saw that my monthly bills were as much as €860 so I opted instead for the business 'unlimited access' option at €50 a month," he said.

"But when I received the bill at the end of May, I couldn't believe my eyes: €159,212 for one month's worth of connection."

Just as in the other two cases that have filled column inches and airwaves in France this week, Spadaro had fallen victim to that "unlimited access" clause for users who had signed the Orange business contract, which in fact is anything but "unlimited" in that it only refers to the time spent using the 'phone and not the maximum one gigabyte volume allowed each month.

Spadaro insists that nobody had ever explained to him that "unlimited access" didn't exactly mean what it implied when he signed the 10-page contract complete with obligatory small print.

So what has France Telecom got to say about this and the other cases that have hit the headlines over the past week?

The man charged with that thankless task was the company's director of business markets, Jean-Paul Cottet.

Speaking on France 2 television's lunchtime news programme on Wednesday, Cottet once again explained the real meaning of "unlimited access" admitting that there was probably still work to be done in clarifying to business customers exactly what each option available offered, and the limits contained within each contract.

But while acknowledging that in Spadaro's case there had been an error in issuing the bill that hadn't taken into account the request to change the terms of the customer's contract, the problem of exorbitant bills wasn't a widespread one.

"There have been problems with only one per cent of the 4,000 users who've opted for the business formula with the 3G key," he said.

"Around 30 contested bills are currently under review and we'll deal with each customer on a case-by-case basis."

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