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Texting Teens Generating OMG Phone Bills 888

theodp writes "Last month, Washington high school junior Sofia Rubenstein used 6,807 text messages, which, at a rate of 15 cents apiece for most of them, pushed her family's Verizon Wireless bill over $1,100. She and other teens are finding themselves in hot water after their families get blindsided with huge phone bills thanks to hefty a la carte text messaging charges." Use of SMS in the US doubled from 2005 to 2006.
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Texting Teens Generating OMG Phone Bills

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  • Two words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @03:56PM (#19200245)
    Prepaid phone.
    • Re:Two words: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRealFixer ( 552803 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:02PM (#19200323)
      I've got 3 words:

      No More Phone.
      • by chris_eineke ( 634570 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:14PM (#19200455) Homepage Journal
        That'll cost her family another 30c.
      • Re:Two words: (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:15PM (#19200471)
        Stop being a pussy: Beat your kid. [thebestpag...iverse.net]
        • Re:Two words: (Score:5, Insightful)

          by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:38PM (#19200719)
          You can do that. Then your kid will yell child abuse to the local Children Protective Services and have you arrested. A talk show host was talking last night about how today's politically correct society won't allow parents to discipline their own children. A spanking is physical abuse. Going to bed without dinner is starvation. Kicking the kid out of the car to have him walk home is abandonment. Won't be long before denying the kid the right to text message is considered a form of abuse.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by stinerman ( 812158 )

            A spanking is physical abuse.
            Yes, its battery and/or assault and should be treated as such.
            • Re:Two words: (Score:5, Informative)

              by ArmedGeek ( 562115 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @06:56PM (#19202073) Homepage Journal
              I don't know where you are, but in Texas ..

              § 9.61. PARENT-CHILD. (a) The use of force, but not
              deadly force, against a child younger than 18 years is justified:
              (1) if the actor is the child's parent or stepparent or
              is acting in loco parentis to the child; and
              (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably
              believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to
              safeguard or promote his welfare.
              (b) For purposes of this section, "in loco parentis"
              includes grandparent and guardian, any person acting by, through,
              or under the direction of a court with jurisdiction over the child,
              and anyone who has express or implied consent of the parent or
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Vexar ( 664860 )
            Proof that the Western World is getting decadent: we can't beat stupidity out of our children anymore. It is a simple psychological tool, called the stick. Sometimes the stick works with one kid, and sometimes only the carrot works. Thus the oligarchy of our courts becomes the law of the Western World. Lawyers are not altruistic individuals, therefore not well-suited to making laws. Some laws only exist because someone was greedy enough to sue. Isn't it great? The only thing worse that I can think of
          • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @07:05PM (#19202151) Homepage Journal
                      <--- Joke

                /|\   <--- You
                / \
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Windowser ( 191974 )
            Here in Canada, it is allowed by law to use "minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature" : http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2004/01/30/spanking04 0130.html [www.cbc.ca]
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ucklak ( 755284 )
          My dad had a paddle and he put a date on it every time he used it.
          That [paddle] was something [grand]parents used to give their children when they became grandparents.

          My 6th grade teacher left her paddle on her desk and drilled a hole in it every time she used it.
          Nothing like hearing the screams of disobedient kids in the halls of my school to keep the rest of us in line.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by microAmp ( 962296 )
        Don't you mean?

        66666 666677733 7446666633
    • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:25PM (#19200577) Journal
      But seriously, why is a phone call cheaper than an SMS message? It's all a digital network, so in cost per bit, SMS messages are something like 66 times more expensive than a phone call.

      Let's compare: Digital cell phones use about 14.4 Kbps of bandwidth. (which explains their clarity) Figure about 30 seconds of talking to get the equivalent of a text message, with the "Hello, is SO AND SO there? Yeah. Yeah. It's Billie. 'O, o joy ur so kul'. -CHUCKLE- Ok, see you later. By by. ".

      That works out to a total of 54,000 bytes, or 108,000 Bytes/minute. I get about 1,000 minutes at $70/month, a la Verizon. Each minute therefore costs $0.07. So the cost per 30 seconds of conversation is something like 3.5 cents, for 56,000 bytes.

      An SMS message is, at its longest, 160 Bytes long. Include headers, let's be generous and say it's double that. (it's not) 320 bytes in an SMS message. Here, we're asking for 15 cents for just 360 bytes?!?!?

      54,000/3.5 cents = .00006 cents per byte ($0.000006 / byte)

      360 bytes/15 cents = .04 cents per byte. ($0.0004 / byte)

      If you were buying soda, it'd be like buying a 12 oz can of soda for about $20 while a 2 liter bottle costs $1.

      Does that seem like good math to you? BTW: I bought into "unlimited text messaging" back when Verizon offered it, and have refused to upgrade plans until I get it. I've got a network monitor, and when something goes wrong I can get tons of messages all at once if I'm not careful.
      • by CosmeticLobotamy ( 155360 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:42PM (#19200749)
        It's cheaper because if you charge 15 cents for a text message, you can sell 40 bajillion minutes for $8 a century, beating your competitor's 40 bajillion for $12.

        The cheap minutes sell the plan, the texting makes the money.

        Also, they can. This is how it works with a free market with ridiculously high barriers to entry. It's insane, but you'll eat it and you'll like it.

        Though legitimately, I assume there is some overhead involved in creating a connection over and over (finding the customer's current cell and whatnot) rather than just maintaining one, but I can't imagine that actually comes close to making up the difference in price per bit.
        • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @05:08PM (#19201017) Homepage
          This is verizon which IIRC is not GSM so I do not know what the actual overhead is.

          In classic GSM the SMS travels as a part of the paging messages and the amount of bandwidth available to it is actually quite low. So by standard law of supply and demand its price cannot be expected to be very low. Network in classic GSM simply does not have the capacity to handle lots of SMS hence it is not going to become very cheap without resorting to more modern technology.

          From some point onwards (forgot which standard level) you can use GPRS for SMS which vastly improves the capacity, but it is not either not enabled or not the default setting in most operators and phones at the moment.

          So there is an underlying economical reason for the relatively high price of TXT compared to voice as well as the fact that TXT is charged differently from other data. At least in GSM. No idea about whatever Verizon uses.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 )
        I have not confirmed it, but last I heard, things like SMS were consigned to a little-used side band in the GSM protocol and the like, not a regular data packet. That side band is supposedly being heavily overloaded.
      • by rylin ( 688457 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @05:03PM (#19200971)

        Each minute therefore costs $0.07.
        Is that .07 dollars or .07 cents?
      • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @06:29PM (#19201843)

        I used to work in the Engineering department of a mobile service provider, so the information here may be somewhat out of date, but the principles are probably still the same today.

        In general, mobile communications networks don't use the same channel for everything. For example, you might have several frequencies available, use one as a control channel (registering handsets as they move around; handshaking to set up calls, etc.) and then have several channels used for voice data.

        Now, it's not unusual for small data messages, such as SMS, to be carried on the control channel rather than voice channels. That means there is much less capacity available for such messages than for voice, because they have only a single channel, and they are also in competition with all the network registration traffic, etc.

        Moreover, the testing overhead for data messages can be higher than voice calls. Certainly for the network I worked on, every call type was made between every possible combination of approved handsets and checked by a real person before new software went live. (Yes, that did take months.)

        So in fact, from a technical point of view, it's entirely unfair to compare voice and data transactions. That probably doesn't matter in practice, of course, because prices will no doubt be set by what the market will bear rather than what it costs to provide the service. That usually means voice and basic texting are relatively cheap these days, but things like photo messaging (or whatever the bonus feature du jour is) tend to cost more.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nbritton ( 823086 )

        If you were buying soda, it'd be like buying a 12 oz can of soda for about $20 while a 2 liter bottle costs $1.
        You do realize that a 2 liter bottle is often cheaper then a 20oz bottle, yes?
  • So kids aren't used to dealing with "You can only be on the phone for this long" and such restrictions?
  • What the hell? Doesn't she have anything better to do?
  • Yep (Score:2, Informative)

    That happened to me once. I figured "oh, at 10 cents per text message, it's no big deal." Then 2 months later my parents saw that I had texted enough to raise the phone bill $200 (mostly thanks to the AIM client that my phone had, which uses a text message for each IM sent and received, as well as another message to connect, and I believe another message to disconnect as well). My parents made me pay for it, of course.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 20, 2007 @03:58PM (#19200277)
    Solution: forbid her from texting her bff Jill.
    • by Miseph ( 979059 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:49PM (#19200803) Journal
      Am I the only one who thinks that ad should be advocating for parents to completely ban their children from text messages?

      I've actually heard of kids in middle and high school who use SMS and IM so much that they legitimately don't know how to spell words like "you", "your/you're", and will use internet abbreviations (lol, idk, etc.) in school papers.

      It scares the shit out of me that people think that's funny, and are apparently willing to pay so that their kids can do more of it.
      • by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @06:30PM (#19201847)
        Listen carefully to the grammar and syntax of our newscasters. Our newspapers. Our popular entertainment. Compare it to the same forty or fifty years ago.

        Some of them do make an effort. But the breadth of vocabulary, the precision of their diction, and the depth of their thought have--for the most part--declined over the years. Multiply that difference by about a thousand and you'll know what's happened in the New York City Public Schools. (Once upon a time, they were among the best in the world.)

        There are some counterexamples... but not many.
  • at a rate of 15 cents apiece
    Sounds very expensive to me. Here in Denmark the normal price for 1 sms is less than 4 cents, and some operators even offer flatrate...
    • Re:15 cents each?! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ottothecow ( 600101 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:04PM (#19200343) Homepage
      they used to be something like 5 to send free to recieve. Then it was 5 to send 5 to recieve, then it was 10 to send 5 to recieve.

      Now it is 15c each way. I dont see how they can justify charging that much for a tiny exchange of data. It has risen WAY faster than the rate of inflation on a technology that should become cheaper (look at how minutes have come down) and it is ridiculous. My guess is that the only reason it works for the phone companies to do this is that the first people to start using them heavily are the kids with their parents buying them mobile phones. They dont have to pay per message so they dont think about the ridiculous costs (look at how much data is in a text message and how much a provider charges for data usage and it becomes clear how much of a rip off it is).

  • Unlimited SMS.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by tgatliff ( 311583 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @03:59PM (#19200281)
    You know Verizon does have unlimited SMS plans for only $15 per month... Just a thought for someone paying a $1100 phone bill... :-)
    • Re:Unlimited SMS.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bwalling ( 195998 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:29PM (#19200629) Homepage
      If 1 = $0.15 and = $15, then why is Verizon billing anyone $1100? The max bill should be $15. If I were selling something at $1 for 1 or $10 for 30, I certainly would charge you $12 for 32 of them instead of $32. If I charged you $32, you'd call me sleazy and you wouldn't tolerate it. Why have we been tolerating this from cell phone companies all this time?
      • Re:Unlimited SMS.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by loraksus ( 171574 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:36PM (#19200693) Homepage
        Because they all suck equally and there really isn't an alternative.
        And the assholes who run the companies use that to their advantage.
      • When you sign a contract saying 1 = $0.15, you are making the option of not spending $15 for a flat-rate you don't find necessary. If you think you're gonna be using lots and lots of SMSs that month, you should upgrade to the flat-rate plan.

        Also, your analogy is flawed: is more like, suppose 1/3 liter Coca-Cola cans were $1 each and 3-liter bottles $2. At the beginning of the month, family A buys 10 such bottles. Family B, however, buys 3 cans each and every day. They will get the same amount of Coca-Cola,

      • by Gregory Cox ( 997625 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @09:38PM (#19203331)
        I agree it's unfair. In the end, though, phone companies doing this hurt themselves more than they hurt their customers.

        Look at this story. Verizon got a one-off payment of $1100 from one customer, and maybe similar payments for a few more. However, by charging this money, they have alienated these customers, and worse, generated extremely negative publicity for themselves.

        Even on technology-loving Slashdot, there have been many responses like these:
        • Kids shouldn't be sending so many text messages
        • I blame the parents for not controlling kids' use of their phones
        • I don't like text messages anyway
        The whole story is in effect a big advertisement for cutting down on your use of text messages.

        Verizon and other phone companies should switch customers who overspend like this to an unlimited price plan, retrospectively for that month - so that the customer never pays that high bill. They would lose money on this deal, but in return they would gain the gratitude of their customers, who are more likely to stay with them, bringing in a steady flow of income from their unlimited-messaging plans every month.

        What's more, these customers on unlimited plans are going to send more messages, encouraging those around them to reply, and increasing the overall use of text messaging. Even if their friends or family are using different providers, the increased volume of text messages will increase dependence on mobile phones, creating a culture in which mobile phone use is accepted, and benefiting the industry as a whole.

        Even criminals extorting money via kidnapping or blackmail are careful to consider what their victim is able and willing to pay when deciding on their charges. Being careful not to surprise customers with expensive charges is simply good business.
  • by Philus ( 58941 ) <steigreNO@SPAMfikas.no> on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:00PM (#19200299)
    ..just a different way of doing it. Sounds like kids still needs to be taught about the consequences of their actions.
    • by GiMP ( 10923 )
      True. I remember when my family first got a computer, my parents signed up with America Online for the free trial. Not because we planned to use AOL, but because it was "free".

      Well, in those days, you paid about $3 per hour, and the trial was for 50 hours.

      Imagine my parent's surprise when the usage was over 100 hours that month...
  • I get 1500 text messages with my plan. I used 6 last month. I never saw the need for 1500. I can't even imaging 6000+.

    • Assuming a 31 day month and assuming she sleeps 8 hours a night, that's an average of one text message every 4.3 minutes all day long, every day. Of course in practice she probably has classes in which her teachers won't allow her to sit there typing away on her cell phone, and has homework (if she actually does it), and needs to put the phone down for a few minutes at meals to use her hands to shovel food into her mouth... so I'd guess that in practice during the time she finds available for texting, the a
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hazem ( 472289 )
        Don't forget the inbound messages. My guess is she receives more than she transmits. Suppose she has 8 friend and they're having an 8-way chat.... all the time.

        Frankly if I had a kid sending text messages that often,
        Our parents were afraid of/bothered by rock and roll/Madonna. We're afraid of/bothered by texting.

        It's just the way kids like to communicate today. We've created a very connected society (SMS, IM, etc) and that's what kids are used to... constant communication with all of their friends. It'
  • by Ogemaniac ( 841129 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:04PM (#19200355)
    In many situations, it is both superior to and FAR more polite than yapping. I had my first cell phone when I lived in Japan, and I sent and received about twenty messages a day. Talking on cell phones was banned in many locations including public transportation, and severly frowned upon in most other public locations. It was like heaven.

    Then I returned to the US: People yap while driving. Yap on the bus. Yap while in line. Yap yap yap, oblivious to the people around them or how annoying (and dangerous) they are being.

    I blame this largely on the cell phone providers. It is obvious that a text message is far cheaper for them than a phone call, as the amount of information to be sent is tiny. Yet here in the states, text is expensive, typically the price of a minute of talk or so. In Japan, a text was 2-3 cents, while a minute of talk nearly ten times that. Text was automatically part of any plan that I saw. Such pricing is sensible, given the large amount of data that needs to be transferred for live calls, and the fact that it has to be immediate.

    American wireless companies should drop the price of text down to a fair price (pennies) in order to encourage its use. Not only is this the fair market price, but it would help the adoption of a great complementary technology to direct voice communication.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by The boojum ( 70419 )
      I agree that yapping on the phones in the middle of crowd or while driving is quite rude. But the problem with is that you assume that it's even necessary to answer a call immediately. Most phones have caller id and voicemail.

      If I'm in the middle of something (e.g., driving) or in a public place where talking on the phone would be rude or annoying to the people around me, I'll just let the call go and then make a discrete exit to an area with some privacy where I won't be bothering anyone and return the c
  • Old news here (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:19PM (#19200509)
    Teens have been raking up text bills that even went past those 1100 bucks. No, I don't understand the text craze. Personally, I prefer talking under normal circumstances. It's actually even cheaper here when you compare the amount of data you can exchange in the one to four minutes you could talk here for the price of one text message.

    Kids have always had insane phone bills. That phenomenon didn't hit the US with their flat local call plans, but here it's been a lengthy battle between the kids who prefer the impersonal way of communication because it eliminates the "danger" of "saying the wrong thing" with your body, and their parents who have to foot the bill for it.
  • by nanojath ( 265940 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:20PM (#19200521) Homepage Journal
    Janet Boyd, a lobbyist for Dow Chemical, said she and her husband "nearly died" when they got a $70 charge for their 20-year-old daughter's text-messaging. They went to an unlimited plan.

    There's so many things wrong with that sentence I don't know where to begin.
  • by nEoN nOoDlE ( 27594 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:25PM (#19200585) Homepage
    Remember those huge phone bills from long distance BBS usage back in the day? I never reached over a $1000 a month but I've had a few hundred bucks a month on occasion.
  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:26PM (#19200601) Homepage
    First there was this guy [slashdot.org] whining because it took more than one button click to bail out of the credit card subscription to an anti-virus service, now it's parents whining because they didn't anticipate that the cel company provided less minutes than their kid uses.

    Is it really too much to ask that people read the contract or EULA, and if they accept it, not complain when they find that they made a mistake?

    I'm not even remotely Libertarian, but for God's sake accept some personal responsibility for your actions.
  • by simpleguy ( 5686 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:36PM (#19200697) Homepage


    Nuff said.
  • Stupid parents. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pyrion ( 525584 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @04:41PM (#19200733) Homepage
    If they actually paid attention to their cellphone bill, all it would take is a phone call to customer service to add prepaid txt messages for a fraction of what they'd pay after the fact.

    That or they could just take away the phone, but this way everyone's happy.
  • OMG WTF? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frodrick ( 666941 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @08:01PM (#19202581)
    How can anyone send 227 text messages per day ?
  • by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Sunday May 20, 2007 @09:47PM (#19203399) Journal
    Firstly, the kid should be controlled, do children need a damned mobile phone? Maybe I'm old fasioned but we didn't have them 15 years ago when I was a kid.
    Why not use a prepaid, why not use an account with cheaper SMS?

    The second problem I have with this is the goddamn phone companies charging so much for text!
    In some markets where the consumers aren't idiots, the rate for a text is 1c or even less - in Australia it's a nice butt rapingly harsh 22 or 25c on average :/

    The third problem I have is with companies that let exaggerated bills generate in the first place, I realise it's not their responsibility to an extent but every few years you hear of little Jonny dialing a 1800 number to speak to hot wet sluts for 300 hours in a month and his family end up owing 25grand or something - credit card companies put a freeze on excessive bills, where's this freeze for mobile plans?

    But really,.... get a damn plan with unlimited SMS or something.
  • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @10:09PM (#19203539) Homepage Journal
    which is why I'm holding my daughter's $2000 piano as hostage until she pays up. Hope it was worth it.
  • Greed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Datamonstar ( 845886 ) on Sunday May 20, 2007 @10:28PM (#19203701)
    I've wondered a lot of things about texting. Why is it so popular? How do people seem to like it so much when I find it tedious and time consuming, especially when on the go? Why does it cost so much to do on a phone what I can do virtually for free on a computer? The entire mobile communication payment system needs to be changed quickly. It's currently mirroring the dark ages of internet access, when it was mysterious, addictive, and absorbently expensive. When precious online minutes were rationed out for a specified monthly fee. We've reached a new era in internet services, of unlimited fast internet that is mostly fair, free, and open. I can take my laptop outside find a free access point and chat all I want. I can even call people on their I don't know much about cellular communications, but it's so disturbing to me that these devices that are becoming increasingly similar to computers cannot benefit from some of the same advances in pricing. One day I hope that some loophole allows a clever start-up to offer a cellular service that is as free as the internet is. But I doubt that will happen because of the miles of greed-inspired red tape involved with it.

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.