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Verizon gives up on family's $18,000 bill

A Massachusetts family wins its fight against Verizon Wireless, as the company decides that it is unable to collect an $18,000 bill.

There is forgiveness in the air. Or might it be resignation?

For, in the story of the Massachusetts family that fought for four years against a Verizon bill of some $18,000, a winner has been declared. And it is not, you will be pained to discover, Verizon.

Should you have been temporarily grounded for grievous misbehavior in public, this tale revolved around a young man who tethered his Verizon phone to his laptop in the belief that his family enjoyed free downloads. The enjoyment turned to something south of rage when the St. Germains discovered that the promotional period was no longer germane.

Verizon first tried to reduce the bill by half, but the St. Germain family was as stoic as Mont St. Michel.

Now, according to the Boston Globe, Verizon has issued the following statement: "Despite making a substantial adjustment to the customer's bill in 2006, we concluded last week the remaining balance was uncollectible, wrote it off, and consider the matter closed."

Could it be that the difficult publicity the company enjoyed and the cost of pursuing the St. Germains may have played a part in this interesting decision?

Verizon's statement continued: "Bills of this nature are exceptionally rare, given our policy of clear disclosure of price plan details at the point of sale and through confirmation letters, the customer's ability to change price plans at any time, without fees or extensions, and the many customer tools available for monitoring and managing voice and data usage via the Internet, from handsets, and by text or e-mail notification."

Unfortunately, that section does read a little too much like Facebook's privacy policy. One might have imagined that a simple text that read, "Oy, you. We have a feeling you're going way over your normal usage. You DO realize that you don't get free downloads anymore, don't you?" might have done the trick in 2006, when the overages occurred.

Still, the statement insisted that "our Mobile Broadband data customers are alerted through both e-mail and text message when they reach 50, 75, 90, and 100 percent of their data plans."

My suggestion would be that the language used should be clear and colloquial, rather than some of the slightly gobbledegooky phrases one tends to receive from cell phone companies. (Do you know how to roll over a minute? I'm not sure I do.)

Since the story first emerged into public consciousness, I have received many e-mails from customers of most cell phone companies who have been similarly troubled by bills of some magnitude. Some talk of being passed from one department to another without end. Some talk of sheer bloody-mindedness on behalf of company staff.

I am confident that the real rogues can be rooted out and dealt with before the FCC decides to enact more stringent rules, as it is now threatening to do.