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AT&T to keep iPhone bills brief

August 23, 2007|Michelle Quinn | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The iPhone has given its owners a bad case of information overload.

When his first iPhone bill from AT&T Inc. arrived in the mail, Dan Sokol got nervous. More than 30 pages long, it not only itemized every call the Silicon Valley consultant made in July but also recorded every time he used the Internet or sent e-mail.

"This is probably the same kind of stuff the National Security Agency gets on suspected terrorists," Sokol said.

He is not alone. Some bills for Apple Inc.'s new iPhone have been hundreds of pages long, arriving in boxes that have to be pried open with a knife.

That's because AT&T's practice was to mail bills that itemized phone usage in intricate detail unless customers requested versions that merely summarized their costs.

But the company hadn't anticipated how much iPhone users would do with their new gadget, which combines a cellphone, Web-surfing device and iPod.

A video showing blogger Justine Ezarik leafing through her 300-page iPhone bill has been viewed on YouTube and her website, justineezarik.com, hundreds of thousands of times.

"Use e-billing," her video encourages. "Save a forest."

On Wednesday, AT&T, Apple's wireless partner, sent text messages to iPhone customers telling them that they would receive summary bills as a default option. If they want itemized bills or online billing, they should contact AT&T.

Starting Sept. 28, new AT&T wireless customers will get the summary bill. Detailed paper bills will cost $1.99 per phone line.

"This is something we've been planning for months, not only for the iPhone but also for the customer base as a whole," said Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T's wireless business. "IPhone users are heavy data users, not surprisingly. We thought the time was right to move iPhone customers over."

Rick Rainy, a systems engineer in San Jose, was pleased by AT&T's move, especially after flipping through his first iPhone bill.

"It was just pages and pages saying that I used data for their network every time I updated the weather or checked my stocks," he said.

Raven Zachary, a research director, despaired at the 20-page bill and requested an electronic version. "Too many poor trees wasted," he said.

For some, the bill's physical heft was matched by a whopping charge: thousands of dollars for carrying the iPhone to Europe or Asia and showing it off like the Hope diamond. AT&T offers plans for international calling and data use, but some people were caught off guard.

Before going to Australia with his son this month, Ted Cohen, a digital media consultant, called AT&T to find out what to do about iPhones.

The customer service representative advised Cohen to turn it off if he didn't want to buy the international plan. If Cohen used the iPhone in Australia as he had been using it in the U.S., the bill would run about $4,000.

Cohen leaves for London today.

But he'll use his iPhone only to listen to music.

--

michelle.quinn@latimes.com

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