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Hal Mythbusts The Mythbuster: Adam Savage's $11,000 Mobile Net Bill Was Correct

Updated on July 13, 2009
Yes, it does say MAKE STUFF UP on his T-Shirt. It seems that Adam Savage made up his defense against the AT&T bill he rightfully incurred. What else has he made up? Does he belong as the host of a popular SCIENCE show if he's a liar?
Yes, it does say MAKE STUFF UP on his T-Shirt. It seems that Adam Savage made up his defense against the AT&T bill he rightfully incurred. What else has he made up? Does he belong as the host of a popular SCIENCE show if he's a liar?

I love to watch Discovery Channel's Mythbusters and I never thought I'd be in a position to mythbust Mythbusters, but I have just conducted an experiment to prove that the show's co-host Adam Savage is dead wrong.

A couple of weeks back, Mr. Savage made worldwide headlines with his tirade against AT&T. From

Savage and his wife were in Montreal for a five-day vacation earlier this month.

Not liking that disconnected feeling, he used a mobile modem — a thumb-sized device that plugs into a USB port on a laptop — from his U.S.-based AT&T carrier to connect to the Internet in Montreal.

On Friday, after he returned back to the United States, he discovered his cellphone had stopped working. When he called AT&T to find out the problem, his jaw dropped.

He was slapped with an $11,000 bill for data usage during his five-day stay in La Belle Province. With his Canadian roaming rates at 1.5 cents per kilobyte, he would have had to use about 750,000 kilobytes — or about 750 megabytes — worth of data transfers.

“I have a hard time imagining that was the case,” Savage said in an interview with Canwest News Service from Los Angeles. He said he surfed the web for “maybe two or three hours” in total, but said he wasn’t watching any YouTube videos or downloading any pictures or videos. “I feel like, quite honestly, it could be a missed decimal point,” he said.

Mr. Savage was able to use his celebrity and the uproar from his 60,000+ Tweetheads to shame AT&T into reversing the charges, but was the Mythbuster right, or did he create a myth of his own?

I decided to do my own test, based on Mr. Savage's assertion that he:

...surfed the web for “maybe two or three hours” in total, but said he wasn’t watching any YouTube videos or downloading any pictures or videos.

The Test That Proves Adam Savage Lied

The test was conducted on:

Core i7 920 at Turbo, 12 GB RAM, VelociRaptor Boot Drive, 1 TB RAID1 Mirrored Data Drives, Wireless Broadband Internet from a major telephone utility provider. OS was Vista Home Premium 64 bit SP2, all updates current.

This is certainly a far more powerful system than Mr. Savage's laptop with the AT&T USB Connect Mercury Modem, but that has virtually no effect on data transfer rate, as that aspect is primarily predicated by the broadband connection.

The first thing I did was to set up Netlimiter v1.30, which is an excellent utility for tallying up your total internet traffic both uploaded and downloaded. Then the test was conducted as follows:

  • I rebooted and ensured that no other applications were accessing the internet.
  • I opened one Internet Explorer 8 window.
  • I went to on the browser window and selected the Top Sites page.
  • I right clicked on the URL under the first site listing,
  • I selected Open In New Window.
  • I waited ten seconds, then clicked at random on whatever link I wanted in the new window. Note that I never clicked on any media links such as audio or video files.
  • I waited ten more seconds, then clicked again at random on whatever link I wanted.
  • I closed the window and went back to's page and right clicked on the URL under the second site listing,
  • I continued this process all the way down's Top Sites listings.
  • I stopped exactly one hour later, to the second.
  • I went to a total of 165 different sites, finishing up with
  • My total traffic during those 60 minutes upload added to download was 221.47 MB.

2 Different Estimates: Same Result

 Was the surfing speed accurate? Perhaps. My own personal "just messing around the web" transfer level is significantly higher. I likely average approximately 5 to 7 seconds per web page as many I just click through to drill down to the information I need and then I read very quickly. Some "drill through" pages are on the monitor for about one second. Therefore I rarely spend an average of a full 10 seconds on every web page unless it's mostly long text, but I've allotted for more given the imprecise nature of Mr. Savage's definition of "surfing the web."

OK, time to do some math...

Let's assume that Mr. Savage "surfed the web" for 2.5 hours which is right in the middle of his claim of "maybe two or three hours." We have a total of 553.68 MB.

If we take Mr. Savage's estimate at his higher range level of three hours, we now have 664.41 MB.

Therefore, is AT&T's contention that Mr. Savage chewed through 750 MB of data transfer in five full days really so outrageous?

Let's analyze the numbers.

Mr. Savage is a cyber savvy TV personality. I'm a cyber savvy HubPages personality. I would estimate that if we eliminate the time that I spend writing and commenting on Hubs, I don't think it's outrageous to state that both he and I have about the same online demands on our time and spend about the same amount of time researching, emailing, and doing whatever.

When I'm on vacation, I still can't get away from the web. There has never been a day that I've been in a hotel room that at least two hours were not dedicated to online "catching up." That is way down from my usual 10 hour days in front of my computer.

Mr. Savage was in Montreal for five days. If he used the web as I do whenever I'm out of town, that would equal 10 hours of web access. His estimated 2.5 hours would equal 30 minutes a day which is simply not feasible for a person with his (and my) online requirements.

Let's even assume that Mr. Savage is a waaaaaaaaaaaaay slower reader and surfer than the test results by a factor of three. In other words, the test went through three web pages in the time that it takes him to go through one. That is kind of hard to believe as that would mean he'd be half a minute on each webpage, even index pages, and that would make him five times slower than my own personal surfing rate... but let's give him more than the benefit of the doubt. Back to the math.

  • The data rate of the test was 221.47 MB per hour.
  • His one third speed data rate per hour would be 73.82 MB.
  • His total data transfer would then be 738.2 MB.

Therefore we have two completely different calculations, one of which ends up with total data transfer of 664.41 MB and another that results in 738.2 MB. If we average them out, the result is 701.31 MB, which is within about 7% of the amount that AT&T billed Adam Savage.

Savage Should Get Booted Like Robert Irvine

Was then Mr. Savage justified in claiming that AT&T's claim of 750 MB data transfer was, and I quote: "frakking impossible"?

You decide. By my take, Mr. Savage was extremely negligent in not confirming what his roaming data rate was and leveraged his celebrity and his massive Tweeter audience to get out of paying a correct billing by AT&T. It must be nice to be able to get out of a bill of eleven grand that you have rightfully incurred. Wish I could do the same!

It's very strange that Mr. Savage's application of strict scientific processes on his show seem to fall short when it comes to his own pocketbook!

Now, we can argue all day if a roaming data rate of 1.5 cents per KB is highway robbery or not. That's an outlandish $15 per MB. According to the data rate of the test, the data transfer would chew up one MB every 17 seconds. Completely insane by any stretch of the imagination.

(Interesting to note that if we factor in the average speed that I personally surf the net into 5 days at 2 hours per day my total would be 3.68 GB which would be billed by AT&T at $55,200!)

To put it into perspective I pay close to $45 a month for unlimited wireless broadband internet at my home. Given that I'm online 10 hours a day, or 300 hours a month, I pay 15 cents an hour, which not only is exactly what AT&T charges roaming customers for a mere 10 KB of data traffic, but according to this test would pay to keep you online at roaming data rates for less than one-sixth of a second!

However, to be perfectly fair, AT&T does not wait until you go roaming and then jump up and shout SURPRISE! The rates are readily accessible to anyone, and are specifically pointed out to roaming customers. There's even a popup screen that comes up when you enter roaming range to tell you just that.

What truly surprises me is that such a famous adherent to the scientific method did not do a very simple forensic analysis of the History on his laptop. All he needed to do was check the History of this last five days, revisit all those URLs while checking the data transfer with a simple utility like Netlimiter, and he would know to the KB exactly how much bandwidth he'd used.

It's more than a little suspicious that he never even suggested that. Even if he had his browser settings to store just a couple of days of History, there are many simple ways to restore that information. If I was facing a telecom bill for the cost of a decent small new car, I'd sure as heck pull out the stops to make sure that my claim was backed up by incontrovertible facts.

Now, Mr. Savage... you wouldn't be pulling the wool over your fans' eyes would you?

If that would be the case, would your credibility as a proper and rigorous researcher not go out the window, along with your co-hosting stint? If it was proven that you had lied to get out of your bill, I think that's the least that should happen to you.

After all The Food Network didn't hesitate in giving one of their major stars the boot when he was found to be a liar and a cheat. Robert Irvine was replaced by Michael Symon on Dinner: Impossible for lying. Shouldn't Adam Savage be replaced on Mythbusters as well for a very similar violation? After all, unless Mr. Savage can provide hard data to justify the complete elimination of an $11,000 billing he has no credibility as a scientist or as a science program host.

This should serve as a severe warning to any user of mobile internet anywhere at all. Read your carrier's agreement right down to every last word of fine print. You don't have a TV star's celebrity, vocal following, and sheer chutzpah to get you out of a whopper of a bill that would put you in the poorhouse!

Caveat mobile emptor!


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    • profile image

      gammy 7 years ago

      you have entirely too much time on your hands.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

      He is a liar as he was clearly made aware of the correct charges and he continued to deny them. He also used his fans to put pressure on AT&T to get out of the bill. He lied, he continues to lie, and he should be booted off ANY tv show where he presents himself as a scientist. Scientists don't lie!

    • profile image

      Jay 7 years ago

      Maybe savage was wrong maybe he did deserve that bill but to call the man a liar is a bit much the first thing you would say if you got a bill like that was that it was impossible he may not have looked into it like he should before he spoke and if this is the worst thing he has used his celebrity status for then he is better than most

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks! I appreciate it. You should see how I was pilloried on the Mythbusters forum... but they could never prove I was wrong and Savage was right! :)

    • Garrett Mickley profile image

      Garrett Mickley 7 years ago from Jupiter, Florida

      Good job, Hal, this is excellent work!

    • profile image

      WorkedforAT&T'sIPC 7 years ago

      I worked for AT&T's International Provisioning Center for 2+ years. We dealt with people traveling outside of the country who would like to have either phone AND/OR data service, i.e.: blackberry or laptop.

      AT&T WANTS you to call them BEFORE you hop on the plane so that they can provision your phone or data useage. W/out that they cannot guarantee your phone will even be able to make or receive calls depending on the country.

      However, you WILL be able to access data AND satellite. Which, by the way, satellite costs just a mere $26/minute, such as on a cruise ship.

      Now concerning data: The charges are 1.5cents/kb. Every e-mail, every internet page viewed, even certain types of texts, ANYTHING that can be viewed as data is charged as data with that price w/out an international rate plan and in some countries is even more.

      Once you call them, they put you on a plan, give you ALL of the details because there are a lot and then as long as you qualify you are off and running. So Hal L. was completely correct.

    • PB_Smith profile image

      PB_Smith 8 years ago from Southern California

      Hal you are correct and I misread the placement of the decimal point.

      I apologize for my remark and retract my previous post as I was clearly mistaken in this instance.

    • PB_Smith profile image

      PB_Smith 8 years ago from Southern California

      Glad to see your such an adult Hal and never resort to immature name calling. Oh by the way this is from the ATT site;

      Home pay-per-use or package rates apply to all text, picture, or video messages received when roaming internationally. See your Rate Plan Brochure for details.

      "Data usage pay-per-use rate is $.0195/KB, except in Canada where rate is $.015/KB."

      It's down near the bottom of the page.

      That does say $.015/KB doesn't it?

      No I don't know better than ATT, I just am a lot more intelligent than YOU!

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      For anyone who doesn't know, PB Smith is an acknowledged lunatic and stoner who has been attempting to challenge my Hub on LSD. I've just posted this comment to him there and wished to post it here as well, just so all Hub readers can throw rotten eggs at him if he passes by:


      PB Smith has just posted on my

      "Hal, once again you've proven yourself to be an unmitigated moron. The rates aren't 1.5 cents per kb but rather 0.015 cents per kb. Your math skills are pathetic, your so-called test lacks any kind of scientific acumen."

      Yes, PB knows best. Better than AT&T:

      PB. I take back any words of respect I ever paid you. You're just another stoner moron without any brain cells left. You're just as right about AT&T as you are about LSD and I am going to truly relish showing you up for the nincompoop junkie you are. Enjoy the next few days of fun, as after I present my doctor-vetted evidence you'll have to change your screen name... because you'll be hooted out of any forum you frequent.

      How embarrassing. If I were you I'd emigrate. I hear Mars doesn't have broadband yet. Maybe you can hide there.

      Now keep on squirmin'!

      Merry Christmas! :)


      TMinut: Hey, the truth is the truth. Better he find out now that his hero is lower than... er... no... PB Smith is WAY lower. :)

    • profile image

      TMinut 8 years ago

      Oh no, I never heard about any of this and my son is beside me right now watching his heroes on Mythbusters! I'm trying to avoid him seeing this, wonder if I should tell him or not? Sometimes being a parent is a PAIN!

    • profile image

      PB Smith 8 years ago

      Hal, once again you've proven yourself to be an unmitigated moron.

      The rates aren't 1.5 cents per kb but rather 0.015 cents per kb.

      Your math skills are pathetic, your so-called test lacks any kind of scientific acumen.

      You really are a sad and pathetic little man who couldn't the facts straight if they bit him in the.... wait a minute isn't that where you get your facts in the first place?

      The fact that so many people praise you in your hubs is a very sad and disturbing indictment of the state of education and lack of critical thinking in this world.

      To Hals fans, do you always just accept what this moron says as legitimate facts without any verification?

      If so then I've got some real estate for you, oh and a bridge for a really good price.

      Hal, Still waiting for you to post supporting documentation in your drug hubs.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Where did you get your reading skills, off a cereal box? Read the Hub, bozo!

    • profile image

      Anon 8 years ago

      Where did you get $738.2? At 73.82 MB per hour that would mean he surfed for 10 hours. Do the math.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks Sandyspider. It's an old habit I learned about three decades ago when I first started in the journalism business: Hard work. That's the whole secret right there! :)

      Yeah, I can't believe that he did that either, but unless he can provide some conclusive evidence to prove otherwise, he's MYTHBUSTED! :)

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      How do you do it? You pump this out like nothing at all. But with quality. I enjoyed watching Savage on Mythbusters. But I can't believe what he did.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thank you so much. That is very kind! :)

    • Xaquizzle profile image

      Xaquizzle 8 years ago from California

      I applaud you! I do enjoy the show, but this is very irritating. He used his reputation to cheat a company.

      Shame on Adam,

      Honor on Hal.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thank you very much! I enjoyed doing this test. Let's hope that it works to put pressure on Discovery Channel!

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 8 years ago from Sydney

      Good Hub Hal! I love your analytical approach.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      I can certainly understand how it's tough to live up to icon status. But to blatantly and publicly lie your way out of paying a telecom bill that you rightfully incurred is not the way that a "scientist" functions. I really don't see any option but for Mr. Savage to stay in his position, unless he can prove me wrong.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      It seems that Adam Savage started out well, and people were attracted to the idea of exposing the truth, but mythbusters grew into a cultural icon, and the leaders have become infallible. This is what happens in religion as well. I have seen pastors whose following and influence grew, start to lie to justify their doctrinal positions. In the mean time the money flowed in. Guess it's only human.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks! As for Irvine... Dang. I didn't know that! And I watch Food Network all the time! I guess his new show isn't on the Canadian version of the Food Network yet! Oh well, maybe Mr. Savage can lose his job for a while and then come back when the "heat is off." :)

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 8 years ago from USA

      You are a very patient man, Hal! Great hub though. And FYI...Michael Symon is now out and Robert Irvine is baaaaack! :)

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks! As I stated, I'm certainly not justifying a jaw dropping $15 per MB charge and I couldn't care less if AT&T gets paid or not. The question here is whether Mr. Savage lied to get out of paying. And all evidence seems to point to that conclusion. He can clear his name by providing forensic evidence from his hard drive. Will he? Hmm....

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      This is a very impressive piece of work, but certainly endears AT&T to no one.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Yes, my good friend, I think I caught Adam Savage with his pants down. (Actually not like that faked photo of him naked that was circulating a while back though. That was ICKY!) :)

    • Misha profile image

      Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

      LOLZ! Just LOLZ :D