Live Wire: A tale of internet worry and woe

PHUKET: TWO weeks ago in Live Wire, I produced a list of all the available internet packages in Phuket – at least, all of the packages I know about (click here).

Last week, I explained that most people in Phuket will want to get a “3G” (I still hate that term, because it’s meaningless!) package for their phone(s). Most probably don’t need to get wireless 3G for their tablets/iPads, as long as they can tether the tablet from their phones – a process that’s fairly easy from most phones. And most folks need some sort of landline – ADSL, Fiber, DOCSIS, Airmax – for their homes or offices, although 3G can work in a pinch, particularly if you buy a MyFi box.

This week, I want to drill down on one particular internet service that you don’t want. I’ve mentioned the new TOT 3G service – TOT calls it “3.9G,” thus reinforcing my contention that the term 3G doesn’t mean anything here. I’ve never recommended it, because I don’t have any experience with it, haven’t seen any speed tests reported for it (, and don’t know anyone who’s actually used it.

That all changed, very abruptly, a few days ago, when I received an anonymous copy of a letter sent from a reader in Phuket to TOT’s Senior Executive VP, in Bangkok. Here’s what the letter says, with a few minor edits:

“I recently tried to become a customer of TOT’s 3.9G service, with very unhappy results. I hope this letter will help you to improve the success of TOT’s 3.9G product, and to improve TOT’s public image in the process.

On December 22, I sent this information to TOT’s director of customer service, but I have had no response. Please forward this to the correct executive for prompt action.

My complaint is that I have been excessively overcharged for TOT’s 3.9G service under false pretenses. My attorney thinks this may constitute illegal coercion under section ‘A’ violation of section 341, Chapter 3, Title XII of the Penal Code of Thailand.

On October 8, my assistant, acting on my instructions, signed a contract for TOT 3.9G service. The contract specifies a monthly charge of 850 baht. The contract also refers to a service level called LOAD PLATINUM, which includes 6 GB of download data per month. There were no other marketing or explanatory 3.9G materials provided to us on that date or since.

Shortly thereafter, I started to use the 3.9G service to access the internet from my home computer. I expected to start receiving invoices for 850 baht per month, as per the original contract. Instead, on November 30, I received an invoice for 4,555 baht. On December 20, I received a second invoice for an additional 8,907 baht.

After receiving the November 30 invoice, I eventually figured out that TOT was billing me for 3.9G usage that exceeded the 6 gigabyte cap. This was a great surprise, because TOT had never informed me that there would be additional charges for usage beyond the 6 gigabyte cap. There is certainly nothing written in the contract or in the TOT brochures that specifies any such additional charges. The contract and brochures are completely silent about what happens when the 6 gigabyte cap is exceeded.

Several days after receiving the November 30 invoice, I stopped using the 3.9G service entirely. I also attended a series of meetings with TOT staff and the director of the main TOT office in Phuket, the most recent of which, was on December 19.

During those meetings, I was told for the first time that there was a usage charge of 0.5 baht for each megabyte that exceeded the 6 gigabyte cap in any calendar month.

I assert that these 0.5 baht/megabyte charges are unfair and unjustified because they were never specified in any paperwork provided to me by TOT – and they still have not been provided to me in writing. I do not believe it is acceptable for TOT to bill for charges which have never been explained to or agreed by me.

Please note that (according to the Phuket TOT office) my October 8, 2012 contract was the very first sale of 3.9G service in Phuket – so it is not surprising that there was confusion within TOT and between TOT and customers of the new service.

Also, please note that TOT has not provided 3.9G customers with any way to tell when they are approaching (or have exceeded) the monthly 6 gigabyte cap. It does not seem like fair business practice to charge customers for stepping over an invisible line.

I have called the 1711 number on multiple occasions concerning this problem. After waiting several minutes on each occasion, I spoke to a customer support person who was entirely unfamiliar with the new 3.9G service, and who could tell me nothing about my usage so far that month.

Furthermore, I have determined that TOT sends a steady stream of unsolicited “administrative” traffic down the 3.9G connection. I have no control over this traffic, nor do I have any way of knowing if it is counted toward the 6 gigabyte cap. I do know that the administrative download traffic happens about once per second, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That adds up to about 0.4 gigabytes per month.”

The reader goes on to propose a (very reasonable!) solution to the problem.

My first reaction upon reading the letter – in addition to the usual TIT (This is Thailand) observation – was to compare the price charged for additional data with industry norms. TOT charged the reader 500 baht per gigabyte (GB) for additional data. Singtel in Singapore charges 120 baht. Verizon in the US charges 450 baht for each 1GB overage, although customers can buy 2 GB in advance for 300 baht. Prepaid 3G in Cambodia works well, by all accounts, and costs 450 baht for 5 GB per month or 90 baht per GB.

Which begs the question: How much is one GB? Of course, there’s no definitive answer (this is the computer industry, after all), but a good rule of thumb goes like this: If you download or stream a one hour TV show, it’ll run about 1GB, or less if you go with a lower
quality (720p) picture. Full high definition movies can run 3GB to 5GB each. If you receive good quality photos in your email, 1GB is about 200 pictures – or just a handful of video clips, if they’re incessant. For downloaded music in typical MP3 format, figure on 200 songs. Your email, minus pictures and huge attachments, won’t even put a blip on the counter. Same for web browsing, if you don’t click to play videos.

You can go for about 50 hours with Skype “talking heads” video calls and stay under about 1GB – but if your camera is following something that’s moving, the data stream goes way up. YouTube videos vary not only in length, but in quality – from the lowest quality videos being sent to the smallest screens, up to 1080p high def going to desktop computers. On a tiny screen, you can watch about 10 hours of YouTube videos and stay under 1GB. But if you run at full HD, that goes down to about one hour before you exceed 1GB.

Put another way, if you have a 3GB data cap on your 3G account, and you use the account to watch full-screen TV, you’ll get about three hours of TV per month before blowing the data cap. Watch YouTube videos on your iPhone or Galaxy, and you can go for 30 hours per month. If you talk on Skype all the time, you can run video calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and still stay within your limit – but there won’t be much room to do anything else with the account.

Most internet service providers in Phuket offer “unlimited 3G” packages. While the ads say they’re unlimited, they aren’t really. In this case “unlimited” means you can go up to a specific amount of data in a monthly billing cycle – typically 3 or 4GB – and after you hit the cap, your line is throttled way, way back, so it’s painfully slow, until the end of the billing cycle.


— Woody Leonhard

Phuket News
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