by Tee Morris
August 6, 2009
Before I go into what nagged at me on first hearing this story, I have to say with as much pride as my guiltless geekdom can allow that I am a huge fan of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters. I’ve been there since the beginning; and it never ceases to amaze me what they prove, disprove, and accomplish against conceived odds. There is also the joy of watching thing get blown up for science. Let’s face it: Nothing is cooler than using high-end explosives to remove hardened cement from a mixer truck. Back in June, one of the original Mythbusters, Adam Savage, raised his analytical ire on open Twitter feeds and found his argument sneaking into mainstream media. Savage’s source of undivided attention wasn’t an urban legend or subject of pseudo-science, but AT&T. Why? Seems that after spending a day in Canada, Savage managed to incur a whopping $11,000 bill due to data transfer. No, that isn’t a typo — $11,000 in one day. (Yeah, and I thought the idea of ninjas skipping across water was far-fetched too.) AT&T also claimed that Savage went through an equally whopping 9GB of data on his iPhone. Savage cried foul to both, and fans everywhere began slamming AT&T for their obvious customer abuse. Both parties in this outlandish service charge did come to an understanding. (A good thing, too, as Savage handles volatile substances for a living, but I digress…) However, unlike my fellow geeks who took quick shots at AT&T, I am taking a moment’s pause to ask exactly what happened. You see — I’ve been there. Back in 2005, I went on a trip to Canada. I was assured by other Sprint users that in the Great White North, my phone would still work. Perhaps I would get charged a bit extra, but I could still make calls. Getting to Calgary was an adventure, but I did make it. I went to place that “I made it safely…” phone call to home, and…no signal. Yes, the phone was now a collapsible paperweight. After a few AIM’s to home, I figured it was no big deal. Then an emergency came up, and it was a phone call to the hotel lobby and a human message chain that got word to me that “something was up back home.” When I got back to the States, I was angry. After all, what was I paying for?! Without blinking an eyelash, Sprint, told me, “You went to Canada. You needed an international plan.” Yes, contrary to popular belief, Canada — while still attached to us — is not the United States. It’s a different country. Had I taken a moment and called Sprint (and not relied on the knowledge base of other Sprint users), I could have avoided this panic and picked up a month-long international plan. So now I wonder if Savage did indeed check with AT&T about data rates across nations. If he had, Savage would have probably given his smartphone a lobotomy, similar to what I did before an international trek of my own. No pushing data. No Twitter. No wi-fi. Just a phone and SMS. This would have been easy to do, especially if Savage downloaded AT&T’s free myWireless application. I know from watching the show and hearing him speak that Savage is a really smart guy. I have no doubt he could kill me with his brain. I also think he is human, and an oversight could have been made. As I mentioned in a previous article concerning travel, prepping your iPhone can be a detail easily overlooked. It happens often from the looks of news feeds. This kind of incident is nothing new. Fortunately, from the looks of settlements between customers and carrier, AT&T understands this; but we should not take that for granted. Before stepping on board your flight or crossing borders to destinations abroad, ask yourself if you have prepped your iPhone for travel. If you’re not certain, then pull up your Settings and run down my tried-and-true checklist:
- Under WiFi, is your iPhone’s WiFi on or off?
- Under Mail, Contacts, Calendars, is “Fetch New Data” set to “Push” or is it off?
- Before a flight, is Airplane Mode on or off?