(Mis)Understanding Technology

by Nancy Bestor

If you’re a regular reader of our e-news briefs, you’ll remember that one thing I was worried about on our recent Italy trip were the fees associated with using my iPhone abroad. Well it turns out I had good reason to worry. I took the phone in order to talk to our staff at Travel Essentials on a regular basis. I paid in advance for an international phone package and that worked great. I also paid for texting and that was also fine. What didn’t work out was something I hadn’t worried about at all (isn’t that always the way these things happen?), and that is my “free” wireless services.

When in Italy I used my iPhone to check email and news on the internet when we had free wireless in our Verona apartment and our Venice hotel. In both cases, I was given a password that I entered into my iPhone to begin accessing the services. As far as I could tell, this also worked great.

Imagine my surprise upon returning home to an iPhone bill with well over $100 in charges for “roaming data!” I got on the phone with AT&T right away, and expressed my dismay at the charges, when to my knowledge, I had not accessed data when roaming. As I clearly stated to the AT&T representative, I only used the internet on my iPhone when I had free wireless. I did not buy the discounted international roaming plan because I knew I would not be roaming! The AT&T representative then explained something that I had never heard before. Sometimes, he said, when using a wireless service, you may lose your wireless connection (which we all know can happen pretty regularly). When this happens and you are surfing the internet, your iPhone immediately switches to the 3G (or roaming) services, and you begin accumulating roaming charges. He also told me there is no way to turn this service off.

After expressing my surprise and dislike of this “feature”, the AT&T representative offered to take all of the roaming charges off my bill, before I even asked. So although my story turned out okay in the end, you can bet I’ll think twice before I use my iPhone to check email and access the internet when traveling abroad and I’ll also be sure to double-check my bill if I do.