back to article Wifinity hands customers bills for Wi-Fi services they didn't want but used by accident after software 'glitch' let 'fixed term' subs continue

Members of the British Armed Forces Soldiers have reacted with anger after a British Wi-Fi provider failed to automatically end their time-limited contracts before charging them for consuming data "without subscription". Ofcom-regulated Wifinity prompted a wave of fury when it told former subscribers on Ministry of Defence …

  1. Richard 12 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Pissing off the people who have all the really big guns seems ... unwise.

    OFCOM should be treating this as evidence wifinity aren't "fit and proper persons", and suspend their licence to operate.

    It would seem that the contract is unenforceable. Also, their billing system is known to be broken, so all bills are suspect.

    Fujitsu have prior history on that, the word Horizon springs to mind.

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    When a fixed term contract ends ...

    then there is no agreement for providing a service or for charging the, now ex, customer.

    The WIFI should have stopped working and the squaddie bought another fixed term contract if s/he wanted it.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: When a fixed term contract ends ...

      Apparently it's not really a "fixed term contract", it is a perpetual renewing contract. They just call it a fixed term contract. But really it isn't. Read it. And they're called "Wiifinity" so you know you're paying forever. You are married. (No, that doesn't mean the same thing.)

      In other news, my mobile internet, which is not Wifinity, simply cuts me off when my monthly subscription plus excess megabyte use fees reach £50. Outrageous, I'm sure you agree. They should cut me off when just the excess megabyte use fees reach £50.

      Updating iOS is what did it. Two months, two unsuccessful update attempts - the second with iTunes which should be more reliable.

    2. jollyboyspecial Silver badge

      Re: When a fixed term contract ends ...

      When is a fixed term contract not a fixed term contract? That would depend on the specific terms of the contract. In the Comms industry it's pretty common that a fixed term contract will become a rolling contact at the end of the fixed term. This is usually made clear in the contract.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I'm sure the military advice would be to retreat in good order. Maybe the mess their billing is in won't let them do that because they can't distinguish who should have been billed & who shouldn't.

  4. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

    Surely free wifi should be available at all military bases for those who have chosen to serve their country. Most other workplaces don't charge people who work there for using the wifi connectivity. But no, it seems that even here some bunch of rent extractors have to be allowed to skim off profits, even to the point of shamelessly trying to use questionable quibbling over interpretations of regulations and contracts.

    1. Nifty Silver badge

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      Looks like Wifinity cut some sort of exclusive deal with the Brass then.

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      I'm for free wifi in principle, however thinking about it suggests that in practice a lot of military bases tend to be on a rather large scale, the smallest units of which are orders of magnitude larger than most of us work with.

      Ok, picture the Imperial War Museum at Duxford which many of us will have been to if living in the UK. It's huge right? It's a good mile from the entrance to the land warfare hall. And that site is actually small for an airfield; The M11 was built through the top third of the site and the town the other side of the A505 used to be inside the base perimeter for the people living there, which in Duxfords case has (presumably) been sold off as housing. If the post office were assigning postcodes to that sort of space then it'd probably be several dozen postcodes at the least.

      Single buildings (eg; hangers) are larger than entire business estates and would require a reasonably sophisticated mesh of wifi nodes to provide halfway decent cover before even considering covering the external areas where people go to smoke or sit and eat. I'm assuming that the military aren't going to want to risk opening up their secure military network by sticking wifi nodes on it, so presumably they are going to want a separate network.

      This is not a case of "here's the wifi password" because most places won't have a network at all in the first place, and my mental calculator is coming up with "expensive" as the likely cost of doing a halfway decent job, in which case is it fair that substantial amounts of money for equipment (eg things that go bang) go towards wifi networks for purely personal use? The Guardian et al would have a field day with news stories of "X amount of public funds for military equipment wasted..." at the expense of the people signing off the expense.

      I'm assuming that they got a private contractor to do a job free to the MOD with the cost recouped by billing the people using it, which is at least understandable, even if the billing screw up isn't.

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge

        Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

        If a small company of 100 people can roll out a Meraki MR36 install across 7 sites with an IT department of 2, the I do judge - and judge harshly - examples of pisspoor provision in the face of significantly more resources.

      2. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Imperial War Museum at Duxford which many of us will have been to if living in the UK

        Up the M11 you say. Ah, then that's near impossible to get to for anyone living in the north of the UK. You have two choices:

        * Drive down to the M25 then up the M11.

        * Spend the rest of your life struggling through single carriageway roads, packed with wagons and tractors, across country.

        As with any other sort of infrastructure in the UK, it's shit. But as we've now left the EU, I'm sure the situation will change.

        1. matjaggard

          Re: Imperial War Museum at Duxford which many of us will have been to if living in the UK

          Nonsense. The A14 improvements have made it much better for anyone not attempting to come from Lincolnshire. And if you've chosen to live in Lincolnshire then you get all you deserve.

        2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: Imperial War Museum at Duxford which many of us will have been to if living in the UK

          As with any other sort of infrastructure in the UK, it's shit. But as we've now left the EU, I'm sure the situation will change.

          No worries... there's plenty of money...

          https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/dec/29/labour-lambasts-reported-330k-award-of-public-money-to-repair-ex-peers-road

        3. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Imperial War Museum at Duxford which many of us will have been to if living in the UK

          >Ah, then that's near impossible to get to for anyone living in the north of the UK. You have two choices:

          * Drive down to the M25 then up the M11.

          Not been south of Birmingham, Nottingham, Peterborough for a few decades? It's been possible to drive down the A1 to Huntingdon turn on to the A14/M11 since circa 1990, a few years later the connection with the M1 & M6 was completed.

          About the only real problem with Duxford (and many other places) is that it is difficult to get to without a car...

      3. TechnicalVault

        It's off the shelf these days and if uni's can do it...

        I'm not sure I buy the it's too hard/expensive argument. Not when Cambridge University has been covering large portions of Cambridge town centre with Eduroam WiFi for years. Incidentally, the Wellcome Genome Campus not far down the road from Duxford is has some excellent demonstrations of how easy it is to do outdoor Wifi where it's needed. It's just a matter of having the right antenna and base station.

        Yes this all requires moderately sophisticated Wifi kit but these days that is off the shelf enterprise stuff and most other government departments already have procurement contracts in place for this. There is even GovRoam https://www.jisc.ac.uk/govroam to help you provide your unclassified wifi to staff. If uni's can do it for the network mess that is students then squadies should be easy.

      4. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

        If there was a business case for providing WiFi across a base then there would have been budget to do exactly that.

        However, I suspect the Wifinity problem stems from the decision some years back of selling off the accommodation and then renting it back at the lowest cost to the MoD.

        Wouldn't surprise me if prepayment meters for utilities have been fitted along with other pay before use extras, just so that the contract price with the MoD was kept low.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      To help things along, there's something with a lower coefficient of friction that PTFE on PTFE and that's the well-stuffed brown envelope.

      I'm not suggesting any were deployed in this instance but, you know.....

    4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      This is for personal use. Soldiers living on base but off duty, etc.

      Perfectly reasonable to have reasonable charges for stuff like that. Unreasonable to screw up the billing.

    5. Trollslayer
      Unhappy

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      The correct term is exploited.

    6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      Captive market. It's not like the soldiers can call up a competing broadband service and have a DSL line run into their barracks.

      On this side of the pond, we have a similar problem with telephone service provided in prisons. The 'residents' have no freedom to chose competing services. And rather than the local telco providing a bank of payphones on the same terms as those in the free world, providers step in to exploit that lack of choice.

      1. Horst U Rodeinon
        Holmes

        Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

        "On this side of the pond, we have a similar problem with telephone service provided in prisons."

        It sounds to me like you're speaking from first hand experience.

        Here's a plan: Don't do things which get you sent to prison.

        1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

          "It sounds to me like you're speaking from first hand experience."

          Yeah. Somebody has to stand duty in the guard towers while you folks are in the exercise yard.

    7. safetysam

      Re: Why are soldiers being monetised for profit like this?

      Why is ANYONE being monetised like this?

  5. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    Sales & marketing persons' paradise

    Billing "services that former customers didn't want and hadn't signed up for" - OMG that's a sales person's wet dream! No need to seduce a client, absolutely no effort to make, just go straight for the sweet spot...

    Obviously normally in the outside world this would result in torches, pitchforks and legal actions, but the military is special enough for such things to apparently become possible.

  6. xyz123 Silver badge

    OFCOM has the ability to secure and check internal emails for wifinity.

    Taking bets this was going to contribute to their Xmas party / CEO's performance bonuses for the year, and people are bitching they got found out.

    And if they're prepared to fleece the military, what secrets have they 'accidentally' taken copies of?

    This could warrant a full complete audit of the entire company from financial and national security perspectives.

  7. Potemkine! Silver badge
    Devil

    Weaselish Bastards

    Nobody expect the Wifinity Inquisition

  8. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Should be outlawed...

    "Looks like Wifinity cut some sort of exclusive deal with the Brass then."

    Yes, and no doubt a slime ball MP has his or her hands down the back of Wifinity's pants to take their cut.

    All subscription services should be banned from automatically rolling over or having these terms buried on page 56 of the T&C's. It's also happening with insurance. My insurer tells me that automatic renewal by CPA is because they want to "protect" me from driving accidentally without insurance, where in reality its because they are hoping I'll be too lazy to notice that they have hiked the premium on renewal by 25 - 50% and move to another provider.

    Never give these f**kers a chance.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Should be outlawed...

      A fun version of this is with the two major greetings cards companies (maybe others too).

      A little offer at the bottom of the order screen "Do you want £xx pounds off your next order?"

      Who wouldn't. In tiny print it is enrolling you in some monthly rolling payment scheme for some entirely different thing.

    2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Should be outlawed...

      Re: "All subscription services should be banned from automatically rolling over or having these terms buried on page 56 of the T&C's. It's also happening with insurance. My insurer tells me that automatic renewal by CPA is because they want to "protect" me from driving accidentally without insurance, where in reality its because they are hoping I'll be too lazy to notice that they have hiked the premium on renewal by 25 - 50% and move to another provider."

      I do partly agree with that. Most subscriptions should be opt in. Not sure about insurance though. If you don't renew your insurance and have a crash, the consequences could be dire.

      But for most services, as I said, any auto renewal should be opt in, with the fact it's a subscription and opt in being *clearly* displayed anywhere the service is advertised. The same applies for any products with a subscription price.

      Quite a few times, I've seen a given product or service for (say) £9,99 and it *looks* like a one off payment, only becoming obvious it's £9.99 a month when you look at the small print.

      Take, for an example, an iPhone app. For a one off fee of £9,99, it might be good value. For an annual subscription of £9.99, it might still be good value. If it's £9.99 a month, it's probably not good value. I'm naturally cautious about advertising, and even I've nearly been fooled.

    3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Should be outlawed...

      "All subscription services should be banned from automatically rolling over"

      I completely forgot to change my home ISP this year. It rolled over a few days ago. Fortunately it didn't get cut off, so I have internet between now and whenever a new contract with a new provider starts.

      It's generally a good thing that stuff continues. Wifinity and similar are the exception rather than the rule.

      And when it comes to car insurance, I think it's actually required by law that you affirmatively opt out if you haven't bought an alternative policy. It's easy enough to do. Unintentionally driving uninsured would be a very bad thing to do, because you will be caught pretty much instantly, and, in practice, that's the end of driving for you (for a good few years) unless you're very wealthy.

  9. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

    Telecommunications services, in general, are a cash cow. Once the infrastructure is in place and paid for, the user charges are pure profit. This has been true...for a long time. One might argue that landline telephone was the exception, but look at what you got for the money vs. what you get now, for the exact same amount (unadjusted for inflation).

    1. dogcatcher

      Where today can I make a 'phone call for 4d through a friendly operator?

    2. Joseba4242

      Telecomms Costs

      Infrastructure needs to be refreshed and expanded and hence its depreciation is a real cost that ends to be factored in all the time.

      Additionally customers expect an exponential* increase in bandwidth consumption without cost increase. That also requires constant reinvestment.

      Then there is customer service and repair which takes up a significant proportion of the fees.

      At the prices of Internet access in the UK this really isn't a high-margin "cash cow".

      * Bandwith consumption has for a long time been "exponential" in the true meaning ie multiplying each fixed period. Not just meaning "large" as it's normally used (a pet hate of mine)

      1. kiwimuso
        Unhappy

        Re: Telecomms Costs

        @Joseba4242

        "Then there is customer service and repair which takes up a significant proportion of the fees."

        Including of course those poor sods working for the ISP wanting an increase in pay this year as they haven't had one for, oooh, at least 12 months.

        Usually a lot longer.

        And that's without all the investors, bosses, MP's etc expecting their cut, and expecting it to increase each year as well.

        And speaking of "fine print" I got caught when I was living in the U.K. with something that looked like a "news" article, which sounded intriguing, so clicked on the link (never again!) and found I had just signed up for a monthly subscription for something or other from a U.S. company who seem particularly prone to this sort of underhanded thing.

        I thought it was a "one off" so when I realised that it was a subscription, I immediately (it took me all of about 5 minutes) rang and cancelled my credit card and asked for a replacement. Told them why as well.

        I now take the precaution of not clicking on links that I know nothing about, especially labelled "Ad" and if I am in the slightest bit interested, I find their actual website and go in through that. I find there is less chance of signing up to something by accident.

        1. Steve K

          Re: Telecomms Costs

          How did they get your credit card details from a single click on a link?

  10. chris street

    Its Fujitsu all over again.

    Well it's not like these people dont have form for billing errors and deliberatly concealing them is it - Im sure that this was nothing to do with the culture that led them to lie about Horizon and the sub postmasters etc....

  11. a_yank_lurker

    Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.

    Carriers over here have been rather creative about mistreating customers for years. I was with one that extended the contract every time you called them. Eventually I was able to switch to another carrier that is much saner in how it treats customers.

  12. Stumo

    gambling on people not taking them to court?

    I imagine that if you're not in complete control of where you'll live, it becomes harder to use the small claims court etc as you could be in another country when your court date comes up

  13. Christoph

    Bung em in jail for a fixed term - automatically renewed.

  14. Synkronicity

    I guess the privilege of having the most expensive military in the world is not having to pay for wi-fi. Although it typically sucks over here, as one commenter pointed out, these bases are the size of like a small town so the signal tends to be shit and the speed slow. Overseas it's a different story since everyone is hogging a satellite uplink and you might have to pay up to whichever deadbeat vendor plonked down the dish.

    1. stungebag

      I don't understand why the area being large should affect the wifi. Universities have campus-wide networks as do many towns and cities. Not providing comprehensive, free, wifi is just the usual mean attitude we've come to expect from the state.

      I bet the officers' mess has decent wifi.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wifinity have know for a number of years their billing system doesn't work correctly but it always works in their favour .... so why fix it ?

  16. Westdene

    Billing hasn't been working properly for years ....

    Wfinity know their billing system is rubbish but as it always benefits them they have ignored it.

  17. hayzoos

    Colour me cynical

    All of Wifinity's billing system bugs work in their favor - I have a bridge to sell you, it is located in Arizona but goes by a different name. It is far more likely that bugs in the billing system are both in their favor and in the customers' favor. Only one of those get fixed. Ofcom should order they fix those bugs as well and in no case where the customer questions the validity of a charge are they to require payment. They should be fined as well for making up stories about regulations.

  18. Mr. V. Meldrew

    Step up BT et al! ....

    ..... Your country needs you.

    Come on you big guys do your service to our squaddies. Do not think of what your country can do for you, think of what you can do for your country. A free WIFI connection at MOD bases - think of the free publicity and gratitude of all us civvies.

    Guess there is something in Ofcraps rules that prevents this....

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Step up BT et al! ....

      OFCOM rules, I doubt it. Beancounter rules. I'd lay a small wager.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where are the Royal Signals?

    ..I mean.. the British Army has some of the best comms experts in the world, a shame they can’t put up a couple of dipoles for the chaps to morse code their loved ones or maybe some 300 baud pr0n over Bowman..

  20. Slx

    This kind of thing really annoys me

    Military personnel work very hard, often on really quite poor pay and are expected to put their lives on the line, yet some political, or management decision, makes them the captive market for some ludicrously overpriced WiFi company.

    How does that make any sense?!

    These aren’t people spending an hour or two in an airport and it’s very shoddy treatment.

    Also the service itself can’t be that expensive to provide. They should be offered free WiFi and also it would be a lot more security focused if it were delivered by the military themselves.

    It’s just appalling. I mean what’s next? Pay for their own uniforms and boot polish? Maybe put a few quid in the barracks meter to keep the lights on?

    I’m reminded of Captain Mainwaring asking around for a penny to put into the pay phone to call GHQ to warn them a potential incoming invasion…

  21. PaulR79

    Congratulations on being one of our few (un)lucky subscribers!

    "We recently contacted a minority of our subscribers regarding a software glitch that resulted in a billing issue."

    One of the most infuriating things you can tell people that have been fucked over by your company is that you're in a minority of affected people. It doesn't matter if it's 1% or 1 individual if it's your company's fuckup then you should be doing everything to rectify that. You should not be trying to use it to grab money at any rate, vastly reduced or not. Trying to use a guideline from Ofcom the wrong way to justify your shitty behaviour only makes you look even more scummy. Perhaps the below would be a more accurate thing to tell these 'subscribers'.

    "We recently contacted some people we fucked over by not clearly defining how we work or terminating their services as they understood it. They were a minority of our subscribers so it doesn't really matter and we offered to let them only pay a fraction of the charge they incurred as a result of 'a software glitch' that we like to call automatic renewal."

  22. Droog

    Quick note

    Usually this service is used by those on course or otherwise at the base on a short, temporary basis.

    Those resident will have some form of wifi to their room..in my last barracks where I was for a number of years, I changed my ISP a couple of times.

    These services are to capture the passing trade if you like.

    It's a reasonable charge as it serves some transit camps that don't have any infrastructure bar basic telephone lines such as some of the small ones around Salisbury.

    Also, as pointed out elsewhere, if you have 200 or more soldiers descend into a base and jumping on free wifi, the service would soon break.

    The pay for use service has been around for over a decade now, the bad billing is relatively new.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like