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U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan Got $16,000 AT&T Bill

We should all be aware of the huge charges that come with using our cell phones away from our native carrier's towers. Those who have done so recklessly are well acquainted with what is known as roaming charges.

Roaming charges are nasty, as U.S. soldier Pfc Jose Rivera found out when his bill hit $16,000. Rivera is posted in Afghanistan and is the father to a newborn and a husband to a wife with heart trouble. It's clear that Rivera would like every opportunity to keep in touch with his family, but he probably wouldn't have called home so frequently if he knew just how expensive it was.

Thankfully, after Rivera's story hit the media, AT&T decided to credit the entire bill. But that didn't happen without considerable effort from Rivera and his commanding officers first.

Before Rivera left for Afghanistan, he spoke to AT&T where he claimed a representative told him that he could call home for $4.95 a month. In reality, it was $5 per minute and $0.50 per text message.

Rivera sought out the help of his commanding officers, as English was not his first language. Capt. Evan Brainerd lent a hand. "While he should have realized that $4.95 a month was probably too good to be true, he is a young soldier with minimal experience with phone plans or overseas travel," Brainerd said.

Sgt. Malcolm McCallum, Rivera's immediate supervisor, also helped by trying to reach AT&T by phone.

Brainerd added, "We have initiated multiple formal complaints with AT&T, none of which have gotten any attention. One request to lower the bill to $9,000, still a huge sum for a young PFC in the Army, was denied without any response or explanation.

"Despite being put on hold for sometimes two hours at a time, they were unable to get any kind of explanation or answers from AT&T. At one point, AT&T's automated customer service sent a vague e-mail that said 'the problem had been resolved.'"

Brainerd also sent in a formal letter to AT&T, some of which read: "I have been disgusted by the way our soldiers have been treated, and largely ignored by AT&T's customer service throughout our efforts to resolve this problem. I am certainly not claiming that our soldier, PFC Rivera, is blameless and should not pay to a certain extent for his phone usage. However, $16,000 (every penny that this soldier and his family can hope to save during the course of this 1 year deployment) is a gross injustice."

AT&T has credited the family's bill. Perhaps there's a business opportunity here to offer a special package for soldiers overseas that will include a reasonable number of roaming minutes and texts at an added, but still attainable cost.