Telecom user stung for $600 for unwanted data

At least one Jetstream user has been stung by excessive data costs on his connection, despite being protected by a firewall.

Gary Benner has a JetStream 600 connection in Tauranga for residential use and normally uses between 400 and 600MB of data in a month. Last month, however, his bill came to over $600 because of nearly 4GB of data being transmitted over his line. He is unsure what caused the problem and says Telecom has yet to get back to him with an explanation.

"I have a Nokia M1122 modem which comes with a firewall built in and I've checked my files to see what I did download but nothing comes close to this."

Benner uses the connection to occasionally work remotely and chose JetStream for its "always on" connection.

"I've got four or five clients on it as well so I can dial in to their machines, typically on a weekend or at night. I'm not going to tell them to go to the office and plug their modems in every time I want to connect to their gear."

Telecom insists users should install a firewall or unplug their modems when not in use to avoid problems with denial of service (DoS) attacks or the like, but spokesman Andrew Bristol says any costs incurred by the user must be paid or Telecom will place the account with a debt collection agency.

"The onus is on the customer to manage their own security and usage."

Bristol says Telecom will contact a customer if their account shows signs of uncommonly high usage, but that the customer must pay for data usage.

Telecom has three different "standard terms and conditions" pages on its website - one each for consumers, business and corporate customers. Each one says if a customer disputes any detail on their account they should bring it to Telecom's notice immediately.

"If we agree there is a mistake, we will adjust your next bill. If we find there is no mistake ... you must pay the amount outstanding". Bristol says there is no arbitration or dispute resolution process beyond this. There is no separate set of conditions for data users on the Telecom site.

Consumers' Institute chief executive David Russell says the issue comes down to the contract signed between Telecom and the end user. He says the per megabyte usage model is the reverse of other models - voice calls for example.

"Here it is the receiver who pays rather than the sender of the information." The potential for abuse is greater in this kind of model.

"If you don't like the chap down the road, just start sending him lots of data."

Bristol insists that users who install a firewall will be protected from DoS attacks and the costs they incur.

"It's my understanding that if you either install a firewall or unplug the modem when you're not using the connection you'll be safe."

However as reported in IDGNet on Monday (DSL users could end up paying for DoS attacks) consultant John Russell says the problem is with Telecom's billing arrangement.

"You can have as much firewall as you like at your end, if the packet gets delivered past Telecom's demarcation point, that's accountable to you," he said.

"For example, if you've got a firewall that blocks port 80 and somebody sends ... packets towards port 80, even if your firewall drops them on the floor it doesn't matter, it's already gone through."

But Bristol insists the user will be protected.

"I stand by my statement. With the right firewall protection people will be protected."

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