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Math It's funny.  Laugh.

Verizon Can't Do Math 639

Blogger George Vaccaro recently had a problem with his Verizon based on an unfortunate miscommunication of currency. The crux of the matter was that he was quoted .002 cents per kilobyte for data during a trip to Canada but was charged .002 dollars. Normally this would have been an easy fix, however several humorous calls later the Verizon reps still were unable to discern between the difference between the two rates. You really have to hear it to believe it. Kudos George, you have the patience of a saint.
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Verizon Can't Do Math

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  • by Gregg Alan ( 8487 ) * on Saturday December 09, 2006 @03:24AM (#17171720)
    He was suspicious and had the initial customer service rep make a note in his account stating that the rate is .002 cents per KB. You did read his blog and/or listen to the audio, right?

    And if you'd listened to the audio you would know that they refuse to accept the price being .002 dollars... they correct him that it's .002 cents.

    The only way he'll get this fixed (his bill adjusted to the price he was quoted) is to get Verizon's attention in the press. Or something.

    Can you do math now?
  • by ebers ( 816511 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @03:25AM (#17171724)
    > It's morally on par with keeping the extra money when a clerk accidently hands you too much change.

    No it isn't! When the clerk hands me too much change, the clerk gets screwed because their till comes out wrong and the store thinks they are skimming. This is morally equivilent to buying an item that you think may have been priced too low through a bureaucratic error. If you hesitate to do that, then think back to the last time that you heard of a company refunding money (voluntarily, not through a class-action suit) to customers because they accidently overcharged customers due to a bureaucratic error.
  • Works For Them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @03:45AM (#17171814) Homepage Journal
    Verizon can do math. When they make a mistake that costs them money because they thought 1 cent > 1 dollar, then I'll believe it's math, and not robbery, that's at work.
  • by Eideteker ( 641508 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:08AM (#17171938) Homepage
    Oh, please. When have the morons NOT been in charge?
  • by cy_a253 ( 713262 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:17AM (#17171974)
    He should have started out the call by asking simply if they charge 0.002 dollars or 0.00002 dollars per kilobyte. Just never use the word "cent" in your side of the conversation.
  • by Thornae ( 53316 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:24AM (#17172002)
    I just love the continuing bemused, dumbstruck silences from the Verizon guy. Every time George tries to explain math, you can almost hear the rep's brain overload...

    I thought I'd had some bad 'phone service experiences, but this just takes the cake.
  • by TimboJones ( 192691 ) <timbojones@nosPaM.timbojones.net> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:37AM (#17172060) Homepage
    But 20 cents is expressed as $0.20 and it would be correct int saying if you had $0.20 in change being returned to you, the cashier gave you 20 cents change.

    That's right, you would say that you got "20 cents" in change. You would not say "point 20 cents" or "point 2 cents".

    Similarly, given $0.002, you ought to say "point 2 cents" or "point zero zero 2 dollars" - never "point zero zero 2 cents" as Verizon reps did repeatedly.
  • by lenroc ( 632180 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:44AM (#17172094)
    It isn't as much math as a play on the way we pronounce money. .002 cents isn't the same as $0.002. But 20 cents is expressed as $0.20 and it would be correct int saying if you had $0.20 in change being returned to you, the cashier gave you 20 cents change. So, I don't know what it is called but it is one of those things that gets interchanged around enough that it was finally done wrong. I think were the problem might be is were you get partial number or numbers that aren't equal to a hole cent.

    Whoever modded this up might work at Verizon.

    What you said is all valid, but you said it as though it illustrates the problem. It doesn't.

    Yes, $0.20 is the same as 20 cents. That's not disputed. The problem is that Verizon quoted (repeatedly) "0.002 cents", but charged "$0.002". "0.002 cents" can be rewritten as "$0.00002".

    I would love to find out how this ends.

    I am also considering sending a note to Verizon to find out whether they now know the difference. (Online contact form [verizon.com], mailing address varies by state, find yours here [verizon.com].)

    Side note: Why doesn't the cent sign (" ") appear on /.? (I pasted one in between the quote marks on this line. But even using the escape code I found here [ascii.cl] doesn't work...

  • by Arker ( 91948 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:48AM (#17172112) Homepage
    The thing is, he's tried, repeatedly, to get them to quote what they actually charge. They refuse, and this appears to be a trained response. They quote one rate, then charge 100 times that rate, and refuse to admit there's a difference.

    If someone else tried to do that to them, they wouldn't stand for it for a moment, and you know it.
  • by Yaztromo ( 655250 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:54AM (#17172138) Homepage Journal
    But 20 cents is expressed as $0.20 and it would be correct int saying if you had $0.20 in change being returned to you, the cashier gave you 20 cents change.

    That's because "cent" literally means "one-hundred". As in "per cent" (1% of a unit == 1/100th of that unit), or "centimetre" (1/100th of a metre). Thus, "cent" is already a fractional unit -- it's very name connotes that it is a 1/100th fraction of a larger unit (in this case, a dollar).

    20 one-hundredths of a dollar (or 20 "cents") is thus correctly $0.20. There is no error is usage here -- the unit itself denotes the fractional part when written as a whole number of "cents".

    It's no different than the fact that when we talk about a 2 000 000 000 Hz processor, we usually call it a "2GHz processor". The zeros didn't just disappear -- "G" represents "Giga", which is the prefix representing the large value of 10 to the 9th power.

    As such, the error in this case is purely with the fact that the Verizon reps the gentleman spoke to have no idea what they're talking about, and get confused by a decimal point. They probably don't know how to cancel out the units in a multiplication: 0.002 cents/KB * 35893KB causes the KB on both sides to cancel out, leaving us with 0.002 * 35893 cents (== 71.78 cents). There is nothing to be confused with here -- you can't just multiply two numbers and then make up what unit you want it to represent because it's some unit you're comfortable with. I can't say that I'm charging someone 0.002 cents per KB for 35893KB, and then charge them 71.78 rutabegas. Or 71.78 emus. Or 71.78 Libraries of Congress.

    Really, there is no excuse for this. Verizon should hire a grade 8 math teacher, and give their customer service staff a "how to use decimals and cancel units" math training day. I'll even volunteer to do it (although I'm over qualified). I'll even offer them a huge deal -- I'll just charge them 0.002 Gigacents an hour for my services.


  • Re:updates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BootNinja ( 743040 ) <mack,mcneely&gmail,com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:55AM (#17172142) Homepage
    having worked in the industry, I can tell you, it's not that they realized they were wrong and are trying to make amends. On the contrary, they still believe they are 100% in the right, and are only offering a credit because they are afraid he will cancel his service. I can guarantee you there is a catch. Probably a 2 yr contract renewal that he is automatically approving if he takes the offer. It's called a loyalty credit or retention credit, and they are giving the credit because he is extending his contract, not because they overcharged him.
  • by Solra Bizna ( 716281 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @04:58AM (#17172150) Homepage Journal

    The point is to keep your units explicit. Good habit to be in, makes calculations either nice and clean or obviously flawed.


  • by moresheth ( 678206 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:14AM (#17172228)

    The problem with them admitting defeat and actually charging the rate they've been speaking is that it makes them liable to charge the quoted rate to everyone else.

    Imagine if they grabbed Johnny B., that guy over in tech support that has a math degree. He'd get on the phone and say, "Yeah, that's right, Verizon is quoting the wrong price, you should pay 72 cents."

    Three days later, thousands of Verizon customers who were quoted the same rate demand equal compensation. Then Johnny B. has to find another low-wage job that has nothing to do with his major.

    These reps could have secretly realized what they were saying, just as they were passing the call to their boss. No one wants to make the million dollar decisions, so playing dumb is better than playing unemployed.

  • by jamar0303 ( 896820 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:30AM (#17172318)
    Hey, if I can get a data plan with 2GB for $25... I always wondered why the US charges so much for data- glad I left.
  • Effectiveness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by panaceaa ( 205396 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:30AM (#17172320) Homepage Journal
    The only way this blog campaign is going to be successful is if Verizon realizes they're creating a public relations problem. Therefore I recommend people email Verizon, referencing the customer's blog and name (George Vaccaro), and explain why his bill should be 72 cents instead of 72 dollars. Here's a link to Verizon's email page:

    https://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/contact/email. jsp [verizonwireless.com]

    I really like the bananas explanation: Convert .002 cents to .002 bananas. Multiply by 3600 and you get 72 bananas. Now since we switched cents to bananas, replace bananas with cents and you get 72 cents. Which is $0.72. I don't believe explaining the difference without a switch in units has been effective in either the phone calls or the emails.

    Good luck everyone! :)
  • by Dominic_Mazzoni ( 125164 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:33AM (#17172342) Homepage
    even if they did it on purpose I think the customer is a jerk: .002 cents is 500 kbytes for 1 cent, 1 megabyte for 2 cents, 5 megabytes for 10 cents. That's outrageously cheap and obviously not correct.

    Really? In the U.S. it's pretty common to have unlimited Internet access for $40/month. Now, of course there are different definitions of "unlimited", but for the sake of argument let's say that I download for 1 hour every night - that's pretty reasonable, right? With a 256 kbit Internet connection (most people would have even faster than that) I could download a little over 100 MB in an hour. In a month, that'd be 3 GB. $40/month divided by 3 GB is 0.0013 cents per kilobyte. That's 1/1000 of a cent (not of a dollar), or less than what the guy in the story was quoted.

    Or, think of it this way: the guy apparently downloaded 35893 kilobytes in a month. That's only ~36 megabytes - hardly anything! That's like downloading one album from the iTunes Music Store. And he was charged $72? No wonder he was mad.

    5 megabytes for 10 cents is only cheap for a cell phone. For a shared home broadband connection it's pretty average.
  • by cynix.org ( 811368 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:36AM (#17172368)
    This was the only quote ever given to him. How could he know this is "outrageously cheap" and "obviously not correct"?
  • by CrackedButter ( 646746 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:45AM (#17172408) Homepage Journal
    If they were acting, then they were fucking very good at it and are clearly in the wrong job with their skill set.
  • by johnw ( 3725 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:59AM (#17172670)
    I suspect that this is why we were taught very firmly (at least when I was at school) never to say "point fifty" or "point forty five" but always "point five oh" or "point four five".

    Nowadays I teach maths myself and emphasise the same point to my students.
  • Re:Pay them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pe1chl ( 90186 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:17AM (#17172760)
    The problem with that is that as the consumer you are always pulling the short straw.

    They (Verizon in this case) have all the power. When he doesn't pay, they can simply terminate his service. The continuity of service may be worth more than $71 to him.

    Worse, they can probably (in according to the contract) increase the amount when paying late, put the matter in the hands of a collectors agency (which will charge even more) and register him on some blacklist.
    As there will be no notice of the nature of the conflict, it will be difficult to get service from other companies just because he is noted as a bad debtor.

    The consumer can only try to contest the claim. The company makes sure this is difficult by putting idiots in the callcenter that make him feel helpless and surrender.
    Handling of e-mail and written letters usually is no better. He can write an elaborate message and still get a meaningless "we are sorry but the amount is $71" reply.

    His only way to get some message through may be to pay the bill and terminate the contract, but even that may be unpractical (because it runs for several years and early termination is not possible or incurs an extra fee).

    So, in fact he is completely dependent on the acts of the company and its stupid employees.
    We see the same thing here with phone, cable, energy companies and over here it has started when businesses were being run "the American way". So probably it is more familiar to Americans.
  • Re:Morons (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The Slaughter ( 887603 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:42AM (#17172892)
    They don't exactly have any choice. That up front message that says "This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes" also gives YOU the right to record the call.
  • by shakuni ( 644197 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @08:48AM (#17173174)
    tech support no matter where you do it has its share of problems. i have a feeling if you had an Indian guy with an accent he would have undertood the problem. it his high time that we look at where is our education system going.

    anyway very hilarious
  • by MikePlacid ( 512819 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @09:14AM (#17173296)
    Well, if reading $0.002 as "0.002 cents" is such a common mistake, then using prices less then 1 cent should be avoided. "$2 per Mb" would not have caused any misunderstanding. But probably Verizon marketeers need some misunderstanding...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 09, 2006 @09:36AM (#17173382)
    First of all, why is Johnny B working customer service if he has a degree in mathematics?

    Second of all, if people need a degree in mathematics to know the difference between .002 cents and .002 dollars ....we should all just give up right now.
  • by cortana ( 588495 ) <sam.robots@org@uk> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @09:39AM (#17173408) Homepage
    Rather, he wants someone who *passed* *elementary school maths*. Or have standards slipped on your side of the pond, too? :(
  • by D4rk Fx ( 862399 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @11:32AM (#17174054) Homepage
    I get mad with many of them because they all think that zero point 15 cents is actually bigger than zero point 6 cents.
    They must be used to reading version strings...
  • by Lproven ( 6030 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @12:13PM (#17174388) Homepage Journal
    Yes, it's funny. Yes, it's scary.

    No, it's not at all surprising.

    This is the result of a whole generation of schoolkids who don't know how to do arithmetic. All they know how to do is work a calculator. These are not the same thing.

    And it must be said that the customer here is really not very good at explaining the arithmetic. I understand that he is impatient, angry, resigned, but what he mostly does is repeat himself. He does not explain himself well at all.
  • by dmd ( 404 ) <dmd@3e.FREEBSDorg minus bsd> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:03PM (#17174804) Homepage
    The trouble with this is that there's no way in hell he'd be able to actually get her to type that string as given.

    She would instead type this:

    $.002 cents per KB times 35893 KB

    which leads to a nonsensical result (as well it should). That's the whole problem here - people like her who think that "$.002 cents" means something.

  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:09PM (#17174860)
    256 kbit for $40? I have 6 megabits for $15. (student rate, I live with my girlfriend. It's $50 for other people). I download 3GB files in a day or so. Unless I made a mistake and am adding myself to the category of math idiots here, that means I could theoretically be paying as little as 0.0000001 cents per kilobit if I saturated my connection.

    But that's not the point here. He asked them about the rate, and he thought that they had it wrong. Because they insisted that was the rate when he asked, he had them make note of it on his account before he even left on the trip. It absolutely doesn't matter whether it's a reasonable rate or not. If they quote you a price for something and put it in writing, and you ask them and prod them about the price because you think they're making a mistake and don't want to get things wrong, then they #$&! well better charge you that price. When someone agrees to sell you something for a certain price, they can't just go billing you 100x what they said they were going to charge after the fact. It's their responsibility to charge you a reasonable price, not your responsibility to pay something they consider reasonable after the fact regardless of what they said they were going to charge upfront.

  • by audacity242 ( 324061 ) <audacity242@nosPam.yahoo.com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @01:21PM (#17174954) Homepage
    You're comparing internet access (cable/DSL) with cellular access to data. Very different critters as far as pricing goes. Not really correct to compare apples and oranges.

    Also, for what it's worth, most of the internet access providers DO have a cap on their "unlimited" access, you're just not likely to hit it unless you're downloading a fair amount of movies or other very large files.
  • by Inda ( 580031 ) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @05:12PM (#17177626) Journal
    Speaking of scripting...

    Why let a telephone conversation go on this long? After two minutes I would have written a nice letter explaining things. Some things cannot be explained over the phone properly and this article highlights that fact.

    Dear Sir,

  • Re:Morons (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quigonn ( 80360 ) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:39PM (#17178468) Homepage
    I once saw a report in a TV show about an experiment they made in a shop: They put up a big sign "3 tins for 0.99" and a small sign "1 tin for 0.30". The shop sold more packs of three tins for 0.99 :-(

    And that's exactly the reason why European consumer protection laws require the price marking in supermarket to contain the price per a comparable unit, e.g. 100 grams or 1 kg.
  • by Harik ( 4023 ) <Harik@chaos.ao.net> on Monday December 11, 2006 @04:28AM (#17191856)
    actually, as a verizon wireless customer, I pay ZERO dollars per megabyte on my cellphone. Unlimited data plan. So, going from ZERO in the states to 'nearly zero' in Canada (You know, NOT a third world country) isn't exactly a giant leap to make.

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal