There was an interesting story on the news the other day concerning Iraq and a woman and her husband and their cell phone bill and it proves to be an interesting tale on the riches of entitlement. The husband was being shipped off to Iraq. The wife, lonely and alone without him, wanted to stay in touch with him every day so she would feel “safe.” Together they purchased an International cellular phone plan from Cingular.

Cingular told them, that while they had an International plan, her husband would be Roaming while in Iraq at a per-minute rate of $2.50 USD. “Roaming” means her husband would not be on the Cingular network and that is much more expensive than an “in network” call where you are always under the aegis of your cellular provider. They signed the contract. A month later the woman was presented with an inch-thick 8″x10″, single-spaced, printed-on-both-sides cellular phone bill from Cingular. The woman owed over $10,000.00 USD for a month of cellular calls to Iraq! The woman called Cingular to ask what happened. Cingular reminded her she was being charged $2.50 a minute because her husband was Roaming in Iraq.

The woman said she thought they would only be charged $2.50 a minute if her husband called her. She thought if she called her husband while she was on the American Cingular network they would be charged their regular rate not the $2.50 Roaming rate. Cingular reminded her it didn’t matter if her husband was making or receiving calls in Iraq — he was Roaming at all times while receiving or making calls because he was in Iraq. The woman then played her entitlement card and told Cingular she wanted a break on her bill because her husband was in Iraq and they didn’t have any money because they were only living on military pay. Cingular — who offers one of the most detailed bills of any cellular company — said they charged her nothing more than what she owed.

They reminded her it is expensive for Cingular to process calls into and out of Iraq because it is a war zone. The woman, unsatisfied with the facts, and wishing to play her entitlement card in a larger arena for her personal gain, went to a local television station in New York and pleaded her ignorance of her cellular contract. She claimed Cingular was taking advantage of a distressed wife longing for her husband in Iraq who might be killed any day. Her entitlement card was picked up by the television station. A story was done.

A dimwitted tale of woe was told. An inch-thick cellular bill was waved on television by an indignant reporter. Cingular was called out by the television station. The woman, teary-eyed and on camera, said she and her husband just said “hi” and “how are you” on their cell phones each day and over that month they only had one “30 minute conversation.” She went on to claim the bill was wrong and that Cingular had misled her about the Roaming charges.

There was more indignation from the television reporter and even more inch-thick-cellular-bill-waving and Cingular was contacted and shamed into lowering her bill in the name of patriotism and “supporting the troops.” Cingular, correct in all aspects, was trumped by the entitlement card and they lowered the woman’s Roaming rate to .99 cents per minute from $2.50 per minute for that single $10,000.00 bill. The woman’s new bill was $4,700.00 USD. She is paying the bill. If you do some quick math, a $4,700.00 cellular bill at .99 cents per minute roughly works out to 150 minutes a day over a standard 30 day billing cycle. 150 minutes a day is 2.5 hours a day talking on the phone to Iraq! That sure is a lot of “hi”s and “how are you”s in a day. You know who’s making up the per-minute $1.51 difference in the reduction of the woman’s Roaming charges? We are.

When one person doesn’t play by the rules and demands a favor or a do-over or a recalculation by playing the entitlement card, the rest of us pay for that entitlement in the form of higher per-minute fees and other add-ons and surcharges and that is not right. No one should be allowed to use Iraq, or any other war, as an excuse for getting bad behavior forgiven because it shames the whole mission and paints those who seek the entitlement as thugs and small-time and war profiteers.

22 Comments

  1. Good morning, David, once again the public is convinced that big business has deep pockets that can be picked clean by people that “Didn’t understand.” The credit card that you carry and pay interest or charges an annual fee goes to cover the dead beats who abuse their credit and the banks have to write off their account balance. The banks have budgeted for having to do these write off’s but they are not the ones truly “eating” the loss, it is you, their customer. The one who pays his bills every month because he knew what he was purchasing and knew that he HAD to pay for it. Even the big retailers have budgeted money for loss by theft by customers and employee’s. Why do we let these people who claim ignorence get by with these acts? In this case it was pity or patriotism or both. It would be interesting to know what her monthly cell charges continue to be. Maybe another cell provider could step up and be the hero and offer this couple free service just for the publicity… I think not. They haven’t budgeted for that kind of expense and then every couple would be beating down their doors.

  2. Hi Rich!
    Yes, you make a fine point that this kind of “deception by illusion” is an unfortunate problem that many companies are forced to include in their bottom line.
    I liked how Cingular hung tough for awhile. You know they made it VERY CLEAR to them about the Roaming charges in Iraq. There are certainly special instructions made to those who buy that plan to avoid just the kind of “I didn’t know” excuse at the end of the first billing cycle.
    I’m glad Cingular didn’t give in all the way. You know that was the expectation of the entitlement seeker: A total mulligan. I’m glad they’re making her pay at least the $4,700.00 and I hate it that they — nay we — have to eat the rest of the $6,000.00 she doesn’t feel responsible to pay.
    I think it’s an amazing thing that wives can even call their husbands in Iraq! What happened to the good old letter? With 2.5 hours of conversation a day there sure is a lot of chatting going on when there are certainly better things to do on both sides of the phone.

  3. Wow! What an expensive love talk!! That too, on public money!!!
    As long as the service providers would allow (some)people to get by with it (which they will do to maintain their goodwill,) this will happen. We might not come to know about it though.
    Wish “conscience” can be injected!

  4. Hi Katha!
    Harr! “Love talk!” Heh! That’s precisely what it was, too!
    You’re right that now people can point to a precedent set by Cingular to cut in half these giant Roaming bills. I know many cellular providers are overly considerate when that first bill hits because there are lots of charges and taxes and other fees that take people by utter surprise.
    Cingular has a wonderful online portal where you can login and change all your services and add and delete extras and you get an extremely detailed breakdown of all your calls on a daily basis. The wife could have easily logged in and checked out precisely how and why she was being billed. I don’t think she did that because she didn’t want to know.
    Love your “conscience” injection! You’d make a million with that vaccine!

  5. I understand cellular providers can be unfriendly behemoths to deal with when there is an error. I just have a hard time believing the wife’s excuse for not realizing all her calls in and out of Iraq were being charged at $2.50 per-minute.
    I agree having 2.5 hours a day to chat is wild! I have a feeling that 2.5 hours a day was broken up into thousands of 10 second calls all day long from the wife asking “where are you now?” and “who are you with?”
    She struck me as the clingy and insecure type of person who wanted to keep tabs on her husband all day every day.
    Email isn’t real time enough for her because behavior and whereabouts can be faked.
    A phone call, however, is immediate and a pseudo-tracking device because the second he doesn’t answer her call and it hits Voice Mail she’ll feel entitled to start calling every other minute — with the excuse of not being nosey but being worried that he was wounded.

  6. Oh, and isn’t there an old chestnut that “you never work less for more money than you do in the military?” I heard a retired general mention that on the news a few months ago when they were talking about leisure and recreation time on base…

  7. If our soldier in this case were under enemy fire did he stop to answer his sweety’s phone call. Wouldn’t he be distracted (like driving while on the cell phone) and let his buddies and his guard down? How about he is sneaking up on the bad guys and his cell phone rings with one of the musical ring tones…. “When Johnny comes marching home….LOL

  8. Hi Rich!
    Yeah, right! Harr! I think her husband worked in mechanics or something. So he was always on base fixing trucks and such. If he were in the trenches I’m sure he would not have wanted a cell phone in the first place.

  9. It sounds like the couple should switch to using internet text messaging since internet service seems to be readily available to the military or switch to using pre-paid calling cards to limit the damage to a budgeted amount. There are calling cards that charge as low as 3.2 cents per minute for calls from the U.S. to Iraq.
    There’s also a special program to buy phone cards for the troops so they can call home.

  10. I don’t mind if a couple want to spend $1,000,000.00 instead of $10,000.00 on their “whatever talk” if they are ready to pay it from their own pocket and don’t pretend to be “ignorant” about the billing system or claim to be “over charged.” In fact I don’t have any “right” to mind.
    At the most, I might frown a bit because of this criminal waste of man-hour and woman- insecurity.
    But this is obnoxious!
    By the time I come up with my “conscience” vaccine, the concept of “conscience” will change – I guess!

  11. At times I wonder, they are in a “tug of war” or in a relationship?
    Instead of innovating “conscience vaccine” I should probably explore more about a GPS that can be fitted into the couple’s head!!! Easy to track!!! 😀

  12. Misfire!!!
    They will track someone else!!! I think it won’t matter who they are tracking as long as they can “track!” That will make them happy and make me a millionaire!!! 😀

  13. I just asked Carolyn to check the phone bill as she spent ten days in Reno and we talked a lot on our cells phones and I know her phone was roaming a lt.
    Of course, I am not expecting a $10,000 dollar bill!
    Although when we lived in two separate countries before I moved to the US our phone bills were a bit outrageous. Which is one of the reasons I moved here, it was cheaper! 🙂

  14. Hi Mik!
    I’m glad you checked your phone bill! You never know what can creep in there.
    I bet it was much cheaper living together in the same country than trying to stay in touch over the phone. Heh!
    😀