Verizon offers to settle shocking $17,500 bill

Carlos Mota holds his Verizon bill, now more than $18,000 with late fees. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

Did you see the Daily News' great (and disturbing) story last week about a North Philadelphia man, Carlos Mota, who got a shocking "data roaming" bill from Verizon Wireless after a trip to his native Dominican Republic?

Mota had a laptop computer and a wireless modem, and said he used the laptop twice, for about 90 minutes, before he got a warning about "data roaming" and immediately stopped accessing the Internet.

When he returned to Philadelphia, he got a $17,505 bill that ranks among the largest "bill shocks" reported to the Federal Communications Commission, which is campaigning to help consumer and carriers avoid unintended cell-phone charges that can run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Mota's story broke - click here to read Stephanie Farr's Daily News piece - just after Verizon Wireless agreed to pay the government $25 million to settle a 10-month investigation into generally much smaller bill shocks. In addition to that payment, the carrier said it would refund at least $52.8 million to about 15 million customers who have gotten unexpected pay-as-you-go data charges since November 2007 for data that, in most cases, they weren't trying to download.

Mota's case is different in that he knew he was buying data - he just thought his $60.75-per-month fee would cover it all. Until he noticed the "data roaming" warning on his computer, he wasn't aware of the potential for charges that in some countries can run as high as $20 per megabyte, according to Verizon Wireless spokesman Sheldon Jones.

"We're talking about trying to settle his account with a reasonable payment," Jones told me.  "At this point, we're waiting to hear back." Jones says Verizon Wireless has said it's willing to take about $1,000, paid out over a six-month period.

Of course, almost any Verizon Wireless customer would classify a $1,000 hit as "bill shock," even if it's a lot less shocking than $17,500.

There's got to be a better way to control this kind of costly surprise. As Mota's niece told the Daily News,  "For them, it means nothing, but for him, it means his life. It would ruin him."

Jones said he didn't know how much Verizon Wireless pays its data-roaming partner in the Dominican Republic. But he says, "We pay carriers overseas for that service."

Click here to read about the FCC's efforts to combat bill shock.