Verizon is charging a rural library $880 for accidentally using 440MB of data in Canada

Verizon is charging a rural library $880 for accidentally using 440MB of data in Canada

Photo: Chris Welch / The Verge

Internet telecom companies aren’t your friends, no matter how cheerful they may try to portray themselves in advertisements. The latest reminder of that fact is the story of Tully Free Library in rural Tully, NY, which got hit by an absurd $880 bill from Verizon for using a mere 440 megabytes of data while accidentally roaming in Canada, according to a report from Ars Technica.

The Tully Library offers a hotspot-lending program for residents to get internet access, which is otherwise limited in the town. The program had originally been funded by the Central New York Library Resources Council, which paid for the first two years of the hotspots. But when that grant ended, the library decided to keep the program going on its own.

Accidental roaming added up to an $880 bill real fast

While the original service plan blocked international roaming on the hotspots, the new plans did not. And so, when a library member had a hotspot in his car while driving for a few hours in Canada, it used 440 megabytes of data. (It’s unclear what exactly the borrower’s devices downloaded, given that he claims to have not actively used the hotspot during that time.)

As noted by Ars Technica, given that Verizon charges a truly extortionate $2.05 per megabyte of data usage in Canada for pay-as-you-go plans, that tiny bit of data added up to an $880 bill for the Tully Library. The library — concerned about that bill, which amounts to about 55 percent of its annual budget for the hotspots, according to library director Annabeth Hayes — contacted Verizon and was able to get international roaming disabled going forward. But the company still isn’t budging on the $880 bill.

Now, is Verizon technically and legally in the right here? Yes. But it’s yet another case of a major internet provider enforcing a policy that seems needlessly cruel. Is it really worth hindering a free library’s genuinely thoughtful and helpful program that allows residents access to the internet just to prove a point? It’s not about the data, either — as Ars Technica points out, Verizon offers plenty of options for international data use that don’t come anywhere close to the costs it’s charging the Tully Library.

It’s worth noting here that the Tully Library’s hotspots are so popular precisely because the local cable companies — like Verizon — are so bad at providing home internet to residents, or charge prices that are too high for those residents to reasonably afford.

As of now, the Tully Library hasn’t yet paid the bill, as Verizon is still figuring out if it will waive the fee or not. But as it stands, it’s another needless PR scandal for a company that has already had its fair share of them, especially when dealing with funding-starved municipal services like libraries and fire departments.