Verizon doesn't understand simple math


Verizon told George Vaccaro that bandwidth charges in Canada were .002 cents per kilobyte, but billed him at .002 dollars, or 100 times as much as he was quoted.

But Verizon customer service insists there's no difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents. Here's the recording of the call. George was incredibly patient with the Verizon customer service supervisor, who just couldn't understand the many examples George gave him to explain the difference between .002 cents and .002 dollars.

VerizonMath (Thanks, Jim!)


  1. errrgh, don’t get me started about the lack of arithmetic/logic skills in the general workforce…

  2. Isn’t this something like the third time you guys have posted this? Randall’s joke check is from 2006, and the original issue goes back to 2004. Old news!

  3. Unfortunately, the issue in part is that the 2c/KB charge for mobile phone data in Canada seems to be the norm (although to people from most other countries, myself included, that seems too outrageous to be believable.)

    $2/MB is about an order of magnitude more expensive than South Africa.

  4. No, the issue is that neither the telephone staff, nor their manager understood the possibility of fractions of a cent.

    They confirm, multiple times, that .02¢ is the same 2¢. This isn’t a matter of similarity of rates, it is a distinct lack of mathematical comprehension. They clearly believe that any decimal points in money refer to cents, and any whole numbers refer to dollars, and nothing beyond that.

  5. Yeah, old news, still funny though.
    As I recall, there was also someone who went back and called a bunch of times to get a sampling of how many were still giving mistaken information, even after the incident hit the news and was corrected.

    A bunch were still quoting it wrong.

  6. I think this actually boils down to a semantic problem. They’re seeing $.002 and prob reading it as “cents” because they’re assimilating the decimal point as an automatic semantic shift to cent rather then dollar. So, if you saw $.02, you’d read that as “two cents” (I imagine most wouldn’t say “point zero two dollars”)

    Either way, more schooling please people!

  7. But Verizon customer service insists there’s no difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents.

    Dude, when they send you a bill for 143 dollars, you send them a check for 143 cents.

    Then provide the name of the customer service rep you told you they’re the same.

  8. All he need to do was get them to admit that the rate is $.0002 and multiply that by the data used. While it really shouldn’t be, his “multiply by .02 and then convert to dollars” is confusing the issue. Further not helped by his “do you recognize that there is a difference between a ham sandwich and a twinkie” analogies.

    — Larry Friedman

  9. It may be deliberate. With the woman, it seems like she has a pre-fabricated answer already in hand. Verizon may be quite deliberately scamming their customers.

  10. huh, i really enjoyed watching this video the other day(posted on digg?). but now seeing that it’s from 2006 i feel a little disappointed.

  11. Reminds me of when my eye insurance tried to convince me that 20% off the lenses + 20% off the frame = 40% off a pair of glasses. Um, what?

  12. I look at 100 dollars the same way I think of…

    100 PENNIES!!!

    “…It’s the Final COUNTDOWN!”

  13. In my experience, Verizon will simply send the check to the bank, and withdraw the amount of your current bill. It doesn’t matter what you put on your check as the amount, they’ll just charge what they want, and the bank will simply hand it over.

  14. The REAL culprit here of course is that heinous European invention of METRIC currency!

    If they would only use farthings instead, this would all be much simpler.

    (Yes I’m being satirical)

  15. I agree with Derek above about this being primarily a semantic/language problem and not a mathematical one. I think this is more a really interesting case of language getting in the way of logic than bad mathematics.

  16. I listened to that entire mp3 wishing he had just said, “If I used 5 kilobytes how much should I owe you?”
    “1 Dollar”
    “Does that sound right? You just said fractions of a cent, but now you say I owe you a dollar.”

  17. This may be an old story, but it was also posted to boingboing in February.

    I’m not complaining about the flavour of the free ice cream, but I would like to make a small request. Would it be too much to expect that a contributor would do a quick search in the extensive boingboing history to prevent reposting?

    I don’t demand that every story must be a “new find” as I believe the contributors are often digging through older material looking for hidden gems. However periodically reposting the blog’s content without acknowledgement or adding new info or insight is simply sloppy.

  18. All he need to do was get them to admit..

    Why doesn’t he just tell him that..

    Have you read the whole debacle? Listened to the tapes?

    Have you ever tried to deal with customer service reps who don’t think beyond of their script, and haven’t got (or choose to turn it off while at work) the power of critical thinking?

  19. Old, good, and I was really hoping that this article was going to talk about some further progress on the issue from Verizon’s perspective. I’m glad that there have been updates on the linked blog in the last year, to provide some closure.

  20. “There is no earthly power that can bring a man to understand something, when his employment depends on his not understanding it.”

    I like to imagine that, maybe, these “people” started to understand what he was saying out of innate curiosity, just microseconds before realizing that it could not possibly help them to do so.

  21. Verizon’s service is pretty good but their billing practices are atrocious.

    I talked to one of their reps about about changing plans and was quoted one price. When I got the bill a month later it was $35 more than promised. I complained to customer service and got no where, since I didn’t have anything in writing. I’m dumping them as soon as my contract is up.

  22. I don’t care if this is a new post or not — the memo field on that check made my day.

  23. I have worked as a CSR. You guys seem to think that the person is just out to get you. The person you speak to has been TOLD how to respond to certain situations. That is his/her job. A CSR has it hammered in to his/her head how to respond. Failing to respond in the prescribed manner regardless of how stupid it may be results in disciplinary action. So next time you call up and speak to a CSR keep the following in mind: They are not paid to give a crap about you. They are paid to triage callers in the exact same way every time. When you ask one of them to deviate from the script and you appeal to their humanity remember that the person you are talking to is doing exactly what the corporation asked them to. You are asking them to risk their paycheck for you. Why in the world would they do that no matter how much you make sense?

    So be polite to the person you speak to. They will do everything in their extremely limited power to help. As soon as you are rude or insulting we follow the rule to the letter and you get nowhere. Just like our overlords demand.

  24. #30

    Spot on. It would not benefit anyone in that call centre to let a customer pay 100x less than the company wants them to pay. I’m sure they understand the difference, he explains it enough.

    Of course the customer can try suing the company for misrepresentation when they were quoted a different rate but call centre staff just can’t accept that they’re right on the (recorded, on both ends) phone.

    (That said, whoa, the last post on that blog came from the end of 2006.)

  25. I teach English/Writing at the college level; to wit: since the Baby-Boomers threw out all the education they didn’t like (read: most useful stuff, like grammar, language arts, math, etc.) and replaced with stuff they DID like (read: Star Trek as literature, the history or rock ‘n’ roll, etc.) the general knowledge of our population has plummeted.

    As an unplanned “bonus” side effect, the loss of these and other types of formal education reduced the ability of our youth to do even basic logical thinking; grammar, for example, encodes logic much the same way math does, so that learning it tends to create a capacity to organize information and anticipate outcomes/results.

    As an upshot, why be surprised this customer service rep can’t tell the difference? He/She has never been taught to, and what’s more, in our faux “service” economy, there’s no reason for the rep to care, either.



  26. Nice to see that Boing Boing is happy to trash Verizon’s customer service, even though Verizon has sponsored Boing Boing TV (do they still sponsor BBTV?)

  27. ’tis indeed an old story, still funny though. Plus I have always wanted a shirt of that Munroe check, it cracks me up every time I see it.

  28. This is an important issue. Doesn’t matter if it’s old. The problem is as old as language.

    #36 – You are wrong, this dude was as polite as a guy running into total ignorance could be. Sometimes I think certain strains of politeness weaken the very fabric of reality, such as politeness in the face of total stupidity. But, I live int eh Midwest and it is the norm. People need to stand up for the brain, as it is getting a good pummeling in the screen age. “My computer says this…” Who’s smarter?

  29. @37 Free ice cream is free. Offering Rocky Road for the first time is great, no matter how many other places offered it first. Re-launching the “Have you heard about Rocky Road” campaign every couple of months is pointless and tiresome. Guns don’t enter into it.

    I can use my powers of mouse and trackpad to skip stories that do not interest me. However from a journalistic point of view, republishing stories without additional news, commentary, info, links, jokes, or context is something to be avoided, don’t you think?

    Unless this, like most folk stories, have some power in the telling. It doesn’t matter that it has been told before, it must be told again. To exorcise mathemagical demons perhaps?

  30. #36,
    I too have worked in a call center as a CSR; I knew plenty of people like you, and thank god I wasn’t like that. If people were decent to me, I would go to bat for them, against my bosses, to the limits of my ability, every time, if I thought they were in the right. My clients respected that, heaped praise on my work, etc. I left this company to pursue other opportunities x3, always parting cordially, and they hired me back x3, too, because I was damn good at what I did and still held on to my humanity. I was a maverick, but I got results and I did solid work. I’m sure I irritated the hell out of the suits but I was too damn good at my job for them to fire me.

    The company, by the way, was a branch of AIG.

  31. Ugh! For some odd reason, this is reminding me of a frustrating conversation I had with an employee at Sun Microsystems who didn’t know there have been (and still are) different versions of Java over the years. (This was supposedly someone who could give you information on certification exams.)

  32. I suspect that metric has a role to play in this. I’ve seen something similar when attempting to teach people taught metric measurements how to machine.

    In school, when one learns metric, they don’t deal with a decimal point. Need 2.7cm? They go to mm, and specify it as 27mm. Same for grams/kilograms. So when they have to deal with a decimal point, they become terribly confused. They seem incapable of applying the basic concept of zero to the specific case of measurement. I have seen one of these people turn a measurement of .207 to 2.7 because of these problems. It is an unintended consequence of the way metric is taught, but it creates enormous problems for manufacturing.

  33. i know of union negotiated per hour wages at verizon that end in an odd # of cents – like, for example, $30.01 an hour. they’ve ( i mean the company, you know, the one we call The Desolate One )done it like that forever & an hour is divided in tenth’s, 6- minute increments, so if you work an hour & a half of overtime that’s 1.5 hours on the timesheet. like a rip-off scheme from “Office Space”, this can work out to fractions of a penny which is rounded off, you guessed it, in the company’s favor. with 10’s of thousands of union hourly workers, it adds up

  34. @WACKYVORLON Well, there’s bloody more people working im metric than that other system, and as far as I can tell, it makes not a bit of difference.

    1 m = 100 cm, 0,5 mm = 1/2 cm, it’s all the same to us. The only time I notice people having problems is when they encounter something like “length of car = 4125 mm”, which is nifty and sensible for engineers, but quite useless for everyone else who expects car lengths in metres.

  35. Listening to this makes me cringe. The breakdown in communication comes when George keeps saying
    “.002 cents” An effective teaching technique is to shock the student.
    “I was quoted a rate of .00002 dollars per Kilobyte”
    would have caused them to stop and say “what? No!”
    “0.002 cents expressed as a fraction of a dollar is 0.00002 dollars.”

    The argument can then come to agreement on the conversion from cents to dollars by pointing out that you are billed in dollars so the rate should be quoted in dollars.

    Once that was cemented in their pointy heads, then showing them that 0.00002 dollars per Kilobyte is not what he was billed. Because the bill would come out 0.71 dollars.

    Now, since you were in Canada, can you pay in Canadian scrip?

  36. @56

    Isn’t 0,5mm = 1/20cm, not 1/2cm?

    Assuming the comma is a decimal place, of course.

  37. Reminds me of my conversation with comcast last week.
    The bill said “$30 lockbox fee”; the rep said that meant a returned check due to the wrong bank account number. (?)
    Gotta feel sorry for them!

  38. Either way it’s pretty reasonable, given that Bell charges $50/MB or $0.05/kb for bandwidth if you don’t have a data plan. Or if you tether.

  39. 35,000 kB is 35MB.

    Who in their right mind would pay $70 to download a 35MB file?

    The poor guy should have asked to speak to someone in engineering.

  40. I love this . i’ve been there.

    Here’s the best way to explain

    These are all the same:
    1 cent is the same as 1.000 cents .
    1 cent is the same as $ 0.01 (dollars)
    1 cent is the same as $0.01000 (dollars)

    If you charge me 1 cent per ” X ” you would get “Y cents”

    Now, Verzion charges 0.002/cent (which is much less than above) The Verzion charge of Z , is larger than Y !!! See the problem.

    More Examples
    2 cents is the same as $0.02
    .002 cents is the same as $0.00002
    1 dollar and .002 of cent would look like this $ 1.00002

    Good luck!

  41. @ #60 – Nelson C: I hope you’re not serious. T T

    0.5 mm or 1/2 of a mm = 0.05 cm or 1/20th of a cm


    10 mm in a centimeter. 1000 mm in a meter.

  42. Come on, how old is this? And will we post who ultimately wins this battle?

    I know it’s fun to engage a pissing match with a big corporation, but when you still lose, well, it’s just an exercise in stupidity.

  43. Every time I hear this recording I scream inside…. this guy has an awesome amount of patience in his attempts to make this guy understand.

    That alone is so very impressive.

  44. Seriously, I love the part where she says “obviously we’re having a difference of opinion here…”. Hahahaha.

  45. In common everyday language any monetary amount less than one whole dollar is quoted as ‘cents’.

    Shame on verizon for not explicitly stating the rate as 0.02 of one dollar and creating the ambiguity in the first place.

    But ultimately, dude is just quabbling over semantics to get windfall through a loophole.

  46. Crap.. I think just deleted this comment before it sent properly. Sorry if it’s a double post.

    Piers W,

    To those above using commas and getting confused thereby, the metric system has no commas.

    Tell it to these people:

    Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada (French-speaking), Costa Rica, Croatia (comma used officially, but both forms are in use elsewhere), Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Faroes, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg (uses both separators officially), Macau, Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa (officially[citation needed], but dot point is commonly used in business), Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam.

    In Croatia, Estonia, France, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and much of Latin Europe as well as French Canada: 1 234 567,89 (In Spain, in handwriting it is also common to use an upper comma: 123.456’89)

    In Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Romania, Sweden and much of Europe: 1 234 567,89 or 1.234.567,89 (in handwriting, 1˙234˙567,89 is also seen, but never in Denmark or Sweden)

    In the Netherlands: for currencies the thousands separator is a dot, e.g. EUR 1.234.567,89, but for other numbers a (narrow) space is used, e.g. 1 234 567,89

  47. @jphilby
    35,000 kB is 35MB

    Pedantic, but this is kind of a maths thread…

    35,000KB is around 34.18MB

  48. #71 – and, for anyone not confused yet, from the same wikipedia article

    In India, due to a numeral system using lakhs (lacs) (1,00,000 equal to 100 000) and crores (1,00,00,000 equal to 10 000 000), comma is used at levels of thousand, lakh and crore, for example, 10 million (1 crore) would be written as 1,00,00,000.

    Things aren’t nearly as universal as we’d like…

  49. Oops! Sorry, misread the units.

    See, Verizon?! How easy was that?

    /Nelson: officially bigger than Verizon

  50. This is a bit like the time LaSalle bank (the processor for a payee I wrote a check to) returned a check to me because the numeric amount in the box was different from the written-out amount on the line. I habitually reduce the fractions and write them out longhand rather than doing the “20/100” approach. The amounts were something like $20.20 and “twenty and one-fifth dollars.” That was a fun customer service letter to write. Never did hear back from them…though nobody tried to make me pay a returned-check fee, either.

  51. this story makes in appearance in the most recent comic. (it’s all about the mouse-over, baby…)

  52. He kept referring to it as a terminology problem. It’s not. It’s a math problem, pure and simple. They took 35893KB * .002c and came up with $71.786. In order to get through to these simple minds he should have kept drilling in this cents to dollars conversion. Have them repeat after him, 35893KB * .002 CENTS = 71.786 CENTS. Time after time until it sank in.

    I was hoping to hear him say .002 cents is .00002 dollars, that way they reps could not have done the false conversion and the figure they saw on their calculators would have been exactly the same as what the charge should have been, .71786 dollars.

    It’s like he was trying to teach them to understand math, when all he needed to do was to firmly illustrate the error. Even so, I’ve been in similar situations and empathize with him.

  53. Así como existe gente maravillosa en este mundo, también hay gente inepta al extremo. ¡Jefe de área! increible.

  54. Pedantic, but this is kind of a maths thread…

    35,000KB is around 34.18MB

    The K stands for kilo, which stands for 1000 or 10^3, not 2^10 or 1024, despite any red-faced, “computers are an exception to standard” notions to the contrary. Engineering is engineering.

  55. throne437 – I did that, intentionally, just for you.

    I think the maths and pronunciation threads are BB’s built-in unicorn chaser for when it’s ugly in the other threads.

  56. The Verizon reps are clueless, but he’s doing a terrible job of explaining. He’s saying the same thing over and over, giving the same examples with different language. He might have had better luck starting off with “if .01 is one cent, then .002 of one cent is .00002, which is what you multiply by the kilobytes used.”

    ITKOVAN also put it well: you can’t change your units in the middle of the equation. If you’re multiplying cents, then the result is in cents, not dollars.

  57. Would like to clear up some confusion here that’s been going on for the years this sound file has been out. It is not CUSTOMER SERVICE he is calling, IT’S A STORE. Seeing as how the supervisor answers are “this is the manager of the store”

    Store reps don’t know anything, they are paid on commission + hourly, so they could care less about hiring people that know simple math. Customer service at least has better understanding of the basic math skills required to figure out data usage and prorated charges on bills.


    VZW Rep

  58. How is it that so few people noticed that the name posted is George Vaccaro, but the check clearly says Randall Patrick Munroe?

    I claim shenanigans and thievery on George.

  59. Wow, it seems that they were able to train everyone at Verizon that 0.002 cents is the same is 0.002 dollars

  60. hahano

    The thing is.. this IS NOT a training issue. Its a maths comprehension problem, that anyone should be ashamed of.. not just specially trained professionals at a tech firm.

    This is basic, primary-school stuff. And its amazing that they found two people in a row that made the same mistake, let alone a whole policy, as anon@89 points out.

  61. Wow. I am having a hard time believing that so many Verizon employees would not even understand such basic math as this. It blows my mind. I got what happened the second I heard the first description. I get frustrated even listening to it. Every person this guy talked to should be fired on the spot and Verizon should implement some minimal hiring standards.

  62. Folks, this is OLD news (at least two years old — I’m sort of surprised people are still talking about it). By and large, the Verizon customer reps do a fantastic job given the vast array of Verizon products and customer issues to deal with. In this incident, unfortunately for Verizon, Mr. Vaccaro stumbled upon a couple of math dunderheads in the call center. To give Verizon credit however, the company eventually relented and gave Mr. Vaccaro what he was quoted even though the original quote was wrong. That should be the end of it. But I guess it’s human nature to persist in pointing out the faults in others, even long after the fault has been corrected. Mr. Vaccaro deserves credit for staying even-tempered through-out the ordeal.

  63. PS I dont get his joke cheque at all. It says 0.002 + e^(i*pi) + [sum of geometric series] (1/2^n) dollars, which I make to be 0.002 – 1 + 1 = 0.002 dollars.

    Why does he want to pay them that? That’s what he was overcharged to in the first place!

  64. GOD this is painful! This guy did initially state things clearly – to the guy. But, when the woman got on the phone, he shouldn’t repeat himself nor repeat THEIR stupidity. He should say:
    “You quoted me 0.002 cents per kilobyte. I used 35893 kB. So I owe you 0.002 cents/kB times 35893 kB which equals 71.786 cents. But, you are charging me 71.786 dollars.”

    Force VERIZON to figure out their own error.
    Don’t hypothesize or conjecture where their error is. Don’t say “I am being charged 0.002 dollars per kB.” Just simply state:

    “I owe you 71 cents. That’s all I owe you.”

    Then, just pay the 71 cents this month, 89 cents the next month, and so on. Make VERIZON complain when they don’t get the money they “think” you owe them.

  65. Also, do NOT say “it was my ‘assumption’ that I was quoted 0.002 cents per kB” State clearly:

    “We agreed and I owe you 0.002 cents per kB”

    After the first hypothetical situation, he should realize that won’t help with these people.

    Just send them what THEY had agreed to charge you – each month – and nothing more. Then call them if they dare try to violate their agreement.

    It’s NOT just a “math” problem. It’s also a “human psychology” problem.

    Trust me – when people / organizations / corporations don’t have the money – suddenly they get VERY good at math.

  66. I would have absolutely LOST IT on these people. This customer has the patience of a flippin’ Saint! And seriously, are there this many people that failed, I mean EPICALLY FAILED, 4th grade arithmetic? 1 cent is 1/100th or .01 of 1 dollar. ergo, .002 cents is 1/100th of .002 dollars. OMFG PEOPLE! Verizon, this is why I do NOT use you for my cell service.

  67. Thank Heavens this poor guy wasn’t have to negotiate for only having used Megabytes as opposed to Kilobytes.

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