News Column

Billing query

June 18, 2014

Have you wondered why mobile companies go heavily on advertising huge supplements on buying electronic devices on 12,18 or 24-month contract with huge letters claiming special offers. If your answer is that they want to advertise their packages with super fast Internet, you are wrong.

It is to make money from customers, whom they fail to inform about various hidden charges in the contract from whom the poor customer has no escape. Their Internet service based on contract is just a lure to prompt customers to purchase glitzy handsets, from which they make substantial amount of money.

I am referring to my case in particular. My hard luck started on December 24, 2013 when I eventually got a device on contract from Batelco's Bahrain City Centre outlet for a period of 12 months. I paid an initial down payment along with enough money to carry on my service for two months and a little more, as I was told. The down payment, they said, would be adjusted with my monthly Supersmart package and deducted accordingly. No other information about any charges was disclosed to me, other than the BD30 I had to pay according to my package.

I was quite excited as I left with my Samsung Note 3 with uninterrupted Internet scheme. My joy did not last long as less than a month later, I got a message saying that I had an outstanding of BD58, and then again the second month some other bill of BD68 and another month of some other amount with disconnected service. I went to the nearest retail outlet to clear my monthly bill and after paying BD30, I got back my Internet service. Three months later, again I got a different bill saying some odd amount. I would not understand a thing about it as I had approached different retail outlets for my monthly payments during my regular errands on different occasions and they all agreed that there was something wrong with the billing. They were able to decide on this while they were able to view the entire history about my case starting from the day of purchase.

After four months of this never ending monthly chaos and without any Internet connection on my mobile phone, I felt frustrated and went to the City Centre outlet to clear the misunderstanding and the errors in billing.

By the way, in all the three months that I had been paying my bills, I had a complaint number which asks Batelco to rectify their billing but surely was not attended to in any case. It was this day after four months of frustration that I walked into Batelco at BCC and was woken up from my slumber. The manager on duty explained that I had to pay BD28 for some partial period in the first month, which she calls the rental for taking their service along with my monthly BD30.

I was astounded at my foolishness as to why on earth would I pay BD28 for rental on 4G postpaid Internet package when I can get similar service with a lesser amount on my prepaid chip. This was not all. The down payment paid by me upfront on my purchase would never be adjusted with my monthly bill after all. This was unpleasant music to my ears and really weighed heavy on my pocket.

All along I was informed by different staff that the down payment would be adjusted and hence the confusion till that time. When I asked her (manager) to explain why I was not informed at the time of purchase, she told me that is the way it functions with all network providers and that I should have been aware.

I told the manager this was unjustified and I felt cheated and duped. Had I known these hidden charges I could have taken the device on full payment from outside instead of the installment scheme. She replied it was the customer's choice not theirs.

Could someone please tell me how do we make a choice? We make a choice by evaluating all the charges along with the service and calculate if it is value for money. But here I was left with no choice but to pay and leave. I am not talking about BD5 or BD10, I am referring to an amount of BD48 which I have to shell out extra for my device.

Could anyone please tell me if there is a regulatory authority who could help us consumers in contract to put a check on all these malpractices?

By the way all these charges are not mentioned in the contract but surely I would like to mention that the contract says any discrepancy with Batelco taken legally will be at the cost of the customer.This prejudiced and biased agreement which is in total favour of the service provider and leaves no rights for the customer amazes me.

I have taken this initiative to communicate with the masses through this medium after numerous calls to Batelco with a request to speak to their senior manager ended in vain. I also sent a mail to their helpdesk three weeks ago.

Name and address withheld on request

l A Batelco spokesman said: "Batelco strives to offer customers high value mobile devices bundled with unlimited data, free call minutes and free SMS's. This suits the needs of customers who prefer to pay for high value devices over the course of 12 or 18 months rather than having the expense of hundreds of dinars in a one-off payment. We aim to make the payment system for these contract packages straightforward. New customers and non nationals are required to pay for the first two months in advance together with any down-payment required for the particular device chosen. Many devices are offered with no down-payment, however, a few of the higher value devices incur a small down-payment initially. There are no hidden charges.

Following the first two months, each subsequent bill is invoiced for the next month in advance for the phone and service. The bill will also include any additional charges such as for calls made that are not included in the package deal.

Specific to this customer's case, she chose a high value phone that required a downpayment of BD20, plus she opted for Batelco's Smart 30 package on a 12 month contract. This means over the course of the year, she pays BD20 once, plus BD30 for each of the 12 months; this covers the cost of the device and includes unlimited data, plus a specified number of calls and SMS's.

The BD28 for the first month upfront, which is causing confusion, is part of the BD30 monthly charge, as it wasn't a full month from the date the service was taken until the next billing date.

The customer received bigger bills and bills with varying amounts due to late payment of the bill on some occasions and /or only paying part of the bill on other occasions, which means the outstanding amounts are carried forward and added to the new bill. We hope this clarifies the issue for the customer."

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Gulf Daily News (Bahrain)

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