Many Canadians get angry about paying what they consider too much for mobile phone service, but when Sue Ellen Parrott got a cellphone bill for more than $10,000 she said she just laughed.
“I thought it was some sick joke,” she told Global News.
But the bill from Virgin Mobile was bona fide.
Parrott hadn’t crossed any international borders or lent her phone to a video-gaming child. In fact, she hasn’t had much in-person contact with her three children since she started living apart from them as the COVID-19 crisis began.
As a personal support worker in a long-term care home who has been caring for coronavirus patients, she said the distance is for her kids’ safety.
“I haven’t touched them since March,” she said, trying to hold back emotions as she discussed the predicament with the phone bill.
“Not being able to see my own family and hug them is hard for me,” she said in an interview.
Parrott said she depends on her mobile phone to communicate with her family through frequent phone calls, texts and video meetings, using platforms like FaceTime and Zoom.
Whenever possible, Parrott said she makes use of Wi-Fi services, not data on her phone.
But according to Virgin Mobile, Parrott consumed more than 172 gigabytes of data in her May billing cycle at a cost of $8,726.34.
Her normal monthly charge is $203. The June 4 bill included taxes of $1,167.32. In total, Virgin demanded Parrott pay $10,147.41.
“I never go over six gigabytes a month,” Parrott said, disputing the phone company’s claim.
Virgin Mobile said in a statement that Parrott “reactivated her mobile data after it was blocked at $50 in overage charges and later added more data to her account on a few occasions.”
Spokesperson Janelle Lee acknowledged the bill represented an “extraordinary level of data usage even during the current situation,” referring to the global pandemic.
“We had reduced Ms. Parrott’s billable data by about half already and will further reduce her total data charges to $500,” Lee wrote.
Under Canada’s Wireless Code, which came into effect in 2013, wireless service providers must notify customers about excessive data use to avoid what it called “bill shock.”
“The Commission also requires WSPs to suspend data overage charges once they reach $50 within a single billing cycle unless the customer explicitly and knowingly agrees to pay additional charges,” according to the mandatory code of conduct for all providers of retail mobile wireless voice and data services.
While Parrott admitted she asked Virgin to provide more data, she was not told that the consumption was adding up in the thousands of dollars.
Eventually, when asked by Global News to consider Parrott’s bill further, Virgin Mobile agreed.
“We’ve taken another look and will waive the remaining data charges in this case,” Lee wrote.
The decision comes as a relief to Parrott who said she was “losing sleep” over the bill, even though she’s working exhausting 12-hour shifts at the long-term care home.
“Definitely, it’s way better,” she said upon learning the bill was being reduced to $500.
When Parrott was told Virgin had erased the data charge entirely, she texted a sigh of relief.
“That’s amazing news. Still in shock,” she wrote.