Verizon and Basic Math

January 8th, 2007

If someone asked you, “Do you know the difference between 0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents?” would you respond with a “yes” or a “no”? For me, it’s an immediate “yes”, as I imagine it is for most people (or so I hope). However, George Vaccaro has found out the hard way that some people simply do not know the difference.

The story, if you haven’t heard it by now, is that George, who is from the U.S., was in Canada and he had called Verizon inquiring what the fee would be per kilobyte (KB) while he was abroad. Verizon quoted him “0.002 cents per KB.” So George uses 35,893 KB in Canada and goes about his life. Upon returning home, he finds that Verizon has charged him $71 for his KB usage in Canada-a fee that equals 0.002 dollars.

To keep things short, George calls Verizon and informs them of this mistake. While on the phone, they confirm several times that the charge is “.002 cents per KB.” However, no one at Verizon seems to be able to tell the difference between 0.002 cents and 0.002 dollars. In fact, George recorded and posted the conversation he had with Verizon. It’s the most frustrating thing I’ve heard in a long time.

Why is it so frustrating? Because it should be very simple math. 0.002 dollars is equal to 0.2 cents, not 0.002 cents. Observe:

100 \times 0.002 = 0.2

See what I did there? I took 100 pennies (which is equal to 1 dollar) and multiplied it by 0.002. The result is moving the decimal place to the right two places, which gives me 0.2 cents. We can see right away that 0.2 cents-or 0.002 dollars-does not equal 0.002 cents.

The Verizon folks were simply taking 0.002 and multiplying it by 35,893, which returns 71.786-which they read to be 71 dollars and 79 cents. What they should have done is convert 0.002 cents to dollars, which would be 0.00002 dollars. If you take that number it multiply it by the KB usage you get what George should have been charged:

0.00002 \times 35893 = 0.71786

71 cents, not dollars (and Google agrees)!

This isn’t integral calculus or differential equations; it’s very basic middle (elementary?) school math. If a kid ever asks you “What will I ever use math for, anyway?” this story should give you an obvious response.


Now do you understand?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.