Paula Cochrane of Airdrie, Scotland, had the shock of her life when she learned that her phone bills for four months had reached about $1,800.

She had just signed up for a new contract with EE, a UK-based phone network, and had her first monthly bill in November amounting to roughly $154. She thought that she could have used the phone longer than the allowed minutes in her contract, which is set at $47 a month. Then she learned that her combined bills for the months of December and January had reached almost $1,370 and that she has a pending charge for the month of February which had gone beyond $230.

The charges on Paula's mobile phone were incurred when she added emoticons in her text messages. She was told that the Japanese smiley face symbols were sent as picture or multimedia messages, or MMS, which can cost far more than regular texts. The EE network charges 40 pence, or about 61 cents, for an MMS, compared with 12 pence, or about 18 cents, for a standard text.

"I am raging," said Paula. She couldn't believe what she has heard and added that she had been using a mobile phone for several years.

She added that her contract included unlimited texts so she had thought that she used up more minutes without her knowledge. She was also using a new phone.

When Paula called EE to complain, the operator told her that her text messages had picture messages attached to them.

Paula said that EE was wrong since her phone didn't have a lot of pictures in it and that she didn't send them in her text messages.

EE had responded to Paula's complaint by cutting her bill with the amount of $150 as an act of goodwill.

"Ms. Cochrane incurred a series of charges for emojis which were sent in the form of MMS messages and fall outside of her monthly tariff," said EE.

EE further explained that a number of factors can incur the charges when sending an emoji. In Paula's case, the charges were caused by her handset's settings. This means that the issue is manufacturer-related as opposed to a network issue.

EE said that they have offered Paula an added credit but she refused to have it.

Paula is bringing her case to the ombudsman. A spokesman from Ofcom, the communications regulator in the U.K., had said, "We expect operators to make clear how much MMS messages cost under your tariff, and when those charges would apply."  

 

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