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May 6, 2012

Vonage: Unlimited International Calls?

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

Telephone and cell companies have popularized “unlimited” calling plans, and customers love them. There is no watching the clock, and checking the number of minutes used.

One company that advertised unlimited calling is Vonage — the leading voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) company. Part of a commercial they ran in the past said:

The fine print is inconsequential for purposes of this story, but refers in part to the fact the only certain countries were included, and maybe not to cell phones in all countries.

Vonage’s website confirms that calling is unlimited to 60 countries:

Lo and behold, the company sent this letter to one customer claiming that he used too many minutes on his unlimited plan.

Dear XXXXX XXXXXXXX,,

We appreciate your business and thank you for using Vonage for your phone service.

In order to provide the best value to all our customers, we track usage of Vonage residential calling plans. At the time of signup, you agreed to the Vonage Terms of Service (TOS), which includes usage guidelines for normal residential use. If you would like to review the usage guidelines, please see sections 5 and 10 of the TOS.

We have observed usage on your account, 1234567890 , which is not consistent with normal residential use. Specifically, your account shows irregular patterns of use and/or international-minute usage that is more than twice that of our heaviest users.

At this time, you can remain on your current plan, but your usage will need to be changed to fall within normal residential use guidelines; this usage would generally not exceed 3,000 international minutes per month. [emphasis added] As another option, you can switch to a different calling plan, or you can disconnect your service without penalty.

For additional information about your options please respond to this email and one of our associates will be glad to assist you.

Regards,
Vonage Customer Service
101

When at Vonage’s terms of service, one learns

*MOUSE PRINT*

5.4 Inconsistent with Normal Use.
If you use the service, any feature or the device in a way that is inconsistent with the normal use for your service, feature or plan, you will be required, at Vonage’s sole discretion, to pay the rates for the service, feature or plan that would apply to the way you used the service, feature or device, or terminate the plan. For example, if you subscribe to one of our residential service plans, and your usage is inconsistent with normal residential use, you may thereafter be required to pay our applicable, higher rates for commercial service for all periods in which your use of our service or the device was inconsistent with normal residential use. Unlimited voice services are provided primarily for continuous live dialog between two individuals. Lack of continuous dialog activity, unusual call patterns, excessive conferencing or call forwarding, excessive numbers and/or consistent excessive usage (which may also apply to features such as Directory Assistance) will be considered indicators that use may be inconsistent with normal use, or that impermissible use may be occurring and may trigger an account review or further action by us. We may determine inconsistent use based on material deviations from the usage patterns and levels of most of our customers using the same and/or similar service plans, features or devices

In summary, they say if your use is inconsistent with normal residential use, they can charge you commercial rates, put you in a higher priced plan, or terminate your service. Nowhere do they establish a specific cap of 3000 international minutes.

If you think about it, 3000 minutes a month is only 100 minutes a day — just over an hour and a half of calling. I could easily imagine someone with loved ones overseas talking that amount of time.

This is yet another example of companies that like to advertise “unlimited” services of one kind or another, but in fact they do have limits that are not clearly stated upfront.

• • •

7 Comments

  1. This is not easy to call because 5.4 appears to be written to protect Vonage against abuse of this unlimited service by ineligible home businesses. The “irregular patterns of use” may have triggered the letter and “international-minute usage that is more than twice that of our heaviest users” may be secondary to the usage pattern. I guess if you look like a home business to Vonage, Vonage will limit your use of this unlimited service that’s “provided primarily for continuous live dialog between two individuals”. If the letter recipient is using the service within the TOS, s/he should complain to his state AG and the FTC.

    Comment by anonymous — May 6, 2012 @ 1:08 pm
  2. I agree that there should have been a clearer disclosure. However, lets at least give them credit that a warning letter was sent prior to out and out charging of the “excessive” minutes.

    I understand that the point of this story is the failure or a company to plainly disclose this information.

    However, the story didn’t provide the reason why the calls were being made (business, scams or just talking to loved ones). The story also didn’t say if the customer contacted Vonage to see if something could be worked out and/or what the reply was to such a request was.

    It’s possible that if someone responded and said my spouse is stationed overseas or other logical reason for the “excessive” calls that there might be exceptions.

    Comment by Tim — May 7, 2012 @ 10:32 am
  3. I think if the customer shows that he is only dialing one or two numbers, Vonage would “believe” he is using it for personal use.

    I don’t blame Vonage for this one, they are trying to get businesses from using a personal plan. I personally think 100 minutes a day, every single day, is a lot of use. Not many “loved ones”, even separated by an ocean, would want to talk that long to each other, day in and day out.

    This sort of reminds me of a case in Canada years ago when their land lines went to “unlimited” use and they flagged this guy that called his girlfriend for 4 to 6 hours per day, every single day. In an interview, when asked how can you talk that long on the phone, the guy literally said that sometimes they just put the phone on speaker to “hear each other breathe” or to “watch a movie together and hear each other”.

    Comment by Jim — May 7, 2012 @ 12:17 pm
  4. Vonage is a company that refused to compensate for VERY long outages in its earlier days, incorrectly billed its monthly charges (to its advantage), made a customer service call a tortured experience, and continued to bill me for three months after I terminated their service per their rules. I’m still using VOIP, but not with that bunch.

    Comment by Bob F — May 7, 2012 @ 5:03 pm
  5. When is someone going to take these carriers to task for their redefinition of “unlimited”? It is either truly unlimited or it is limited. The carriers are having their cake and eating it, too, at the customer’s expense.

    Comment by PCnotPC — May 7, 2012 @ 9:37 pm
  6. I agree with PCnotPC.

    First the cell carriers entice us with hot new phones that you can watch movies on, promise (some of) us unlimited data (AT&T iPhone original users) and then try to say that it’s only unlimited if you don’t use too much. Even the new ‘limited’ plans have some fairly low caps on them considering the types of information that they are suggesting that we use (again, movies, TV, etc.). You can blow through a lot of data watching a movie on a phone or tablet.

    Why doesn’t the Federal Trade Commission get involved? What about the great new consumer watchdog commission that was recently created to keep the banks in line? Shouldn’t it have similar power over the cell and ISP carriers?

    The cell companies moan about bandwidth issues while they are pushing bandwidth gobbling devices to their customers. Is there a forked tongue in the house?

    Comment by BobL — May 8, 2012 @ 6:21 pm
  7. Qwest, now CenturyLink, did the same thing. They consistanly mailed brochures advertising “unlimited” long distance, with wording similar to Vonage. I called to ask for their definition of “unlimited” and was told several times that there wasn’t a cap. After offering to send them a copy of the definition of unlimited from Websters Dictionary and the threat of sending this the the Attorney General, they finally put someone on the phone who disclosed the 3000 minute cap. I asked them to send this information, in writing, they refused. Since this plan required an additional $10 per month, I declined, and I now use Skype.

    Comment by annoymous — May 21, 2012 @ 10:40 am

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