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Verizon’s overage alert system needs work, spokesman admits

Consumer Reports News: September 22, 2011 10:00 AM

Verizon Wireless promises to send text alerts when customers seem to be trending toward using more minutes, messages, or data than allotted by their plan in a given month. But a spokesman for the company admits that the service doesn’t always work reliably.

Case in point: Neither I nor my wife received any alert before incurring a $70 voice overage last August, or for a previous $255 voice overage in February, 2010.

When I contacted Verizon to ask if my failed alerts were aberrations, the company all but admitted they weren’t. Tom Pica, from Verizon’s media relations department, said that Verizon sends out “thousands of free courtesy alerts each month to customers who appear to be tracking above their voice usage.” However, “for a variety of reasons, we may not always send out alerts to every customer who goes over on their monthly plan. We continue to work on ways to enhance the system.”

The admission that Verizon’s overage alerts aren’t always reliable is startling in light of the arguments used by Verizon’s Washington lobbyists in opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to introduce a new rule that would mandate alerts.

The lobbyists insisted the requirement is unnecessary because Verizon and other carriers already give customers ample warnings. “Specifically, around the 20th day of each customer’s billing cycle, Verizon Wireless reviews each customer’s account to determine whether that customer has surpassed or is trending to surpass their voice, messaging, or data allowances for the month and, if so, sends the account holder a free text message,” the company’s lawyers told the FCC in comments filed in July, 2010.

But that’s not all, Verizon’s lobbyists told the FCC. “If an account holder does not respond to this text message, Verizon Wireless may place an outbound prerecorded or live call to the customer…[which] reiterates the information included in the text message,” says Verizon’s filing with the FCC.

But my wife and I never got one of those calls, either.

When I reported on the phantom overage alert last year, I couldn’t find any information about alerts on the carrier’s website, and a salesman at my local Verizon store knew nothing about them. And this September, Verizon customer service rep Chris told me he thought alerts could be activated through the My Verizon online account management tool. “It looks like this has been phased out. I can’t find anywhere how to do it,” he said. (Apparently, no one told Chris that the alerts are automatic and require no sign-up, according to Verizon.)

I can’t, at least yet, say that Verizon’s alert system is better or worse than those of the other major carriers who also claim to offer various types of alerts, because I have personal experience only with Verizon. But I think you can take Verizon’s word on its system being less than fail-safe. Pica, the company spokesperson, told me that the carrier’s focus is on giving customers “many ways to keep track of their voice and data usage” on their own.

I’ll follow up in another post with tips on how best to do that, with Verizon and other carriers. Meantime, it might be good for Verizon to double down on those “ways to enhance [the alert] system” so it reliably delivers on its promises to consumers and regulators.

Jeff Blyskal

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