When I used to work in Detroit’s Renaissance Center, international cellular calls would occasionally appear on my bill. After way too many calls to AT&T, I finally figured out that whenever I used a certain conference room in Tower 600, my phone would grab the cell tower directly across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario.
However, my hassles were nothing compared to a fellow Chicagoan who received a $28,067.31 bill after watching the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions football game on his PC through his AT&T wireless data card. In the Chicago Sun-Times story, Wayne Burdick said “I was in Miami on Nov. 2 getting ready to go on a Caribbean cruise. I wanted to catch the Bears game before we left port. It was 1 p.m. Florida time. The Bears game was starting. The ship was not leaving Miami until 4 p.m., so I slid in my wireless card and brought up my Slingbox and watched the game on my computer.”
It appears that Burdick’s wireless card associated with the cruise ship’s microcell, which connected to the Internet through a satellite link and billed at international roaming rates. Even after providing proof that the ship hadn’t left the dock, the best offer he could get on his own from AT&T was a reduction to $6,000 — still a good bit more than the $220 he normally pays for his unlimited data plan. When Burdick got The Sun-Times Fixer to shine some media light on the problem, AT&T relented.
As more and more portable devices seamlessly link to cellular data networks, travelers who are even close to an international border need to watch out.