U.S.: Qwest Wireless Billing Errors Affect 100,000 in July

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Headline: Billing errors plagued Qwest; 100,000 were overcharged

Source: The Arizona Republic, 10 August 2001

URL: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/business/articles/0810qwest10.html

Billing errors that have shocked Qwest wireless telephone customers throughout the company's 14-state region are more widespread than initially thought, the company said Thursday.

Qwest now estimates that more than 100,000 customers, or about 10 percent of its wireless users, may have received erroneous July bills.

Initial estimates pegged the number at 14,000 or about 1.4 percent of the total, but the company now says those numbers reflected only the most serious problems, generally those customers who were charged up to $600 per minute for excess airtime on their wireless accounts. Leslie McBride-Valenzuela of Phoenix, for example, received a bill for $26,628, and other statements have been as high as $50,000.

Qwest has now identified five different billing problems related to a recent computer software change. Besides the astronomical charges for excess airtime, the company has found customers who were double billed for some services and others who were not charged at all.

Meanwhile, the Denver company has backed down from an attempt to blame the media for long waits experienced by wireless customers calling with billing questions.

The company said Thursday that it would change a recorded message that warned callers of long waits for customer service "due to the high level of media coverage our billing issues have received."

Qwest spokesman Barbara Faulhaber said the company had absolutely no intention of blaming the media for its customer service problems.

"We take full responsibility for this," she said. "We just wanted to let them know there may be a longer wait than usual."

But she noted the company did detect a spike in customer-service calls after The Arizona Republic and other news outlets ran stories about the billing glitch.

In response to the problem, Qwest sent text messages to the handsets of all of its wireless customers and personal letters to about 80,000 subscribers. They tell customers to disregard their July statements and to wait for corrected copies. The company also set up a special customer-service number for people experiencing the billing problems. The number is 1-800-879-0611. For the inconvenience, Faulhaber said customers would not be charged for any excess minutes above their allotted time.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), August 10, 2001


FYI, I got this (and many of my other news posts here) from the daily listing of business news articles at www.prudentbear.com. A highly recommended resource.

Re: the article above: When I read this, my first reaction concerning the long customer service access delays was to recall Gary North predicting exactly this problem, way back when...

No, I am *not* suggesting at all that there is a Y2K or other date component to this billing error -- although we'll likely never hear a convincing public explanation of *exactly* what the Qwest problem was -- but one consequence of a massive billing error is massive problems and frustration in reaching the company to make sure your own bill is fixed.

Gary North suggested for example the image of millions of Social Security recipients in phone tree hell when their checks didn't go through (assuming the phones didn't fail [grin]). While that didn't happen, at least not massively (there were some funny localized mailing delays last year, IIRC) this Qwest screw-up reminds me of the general issue.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), August 10, 2001.

Spider's archives:
19990823 Weiss Ratings Inc. gives US West a below
average rating for Y2K efforts.
Quest later bought US West.

-- spider (spider@web.com), August 10, 2001.

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