Hal Mythbusts The Mythbuster: Adam Savage's $11,000 Mobile Net Bill Was Correct
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 canada.com:
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 Alexa.com on the browser window and selected the Top Sites page.
- I right clicked on the URL under the first site listing, google.com.
- 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 Alexa.com's page and right clicked on the URL under the second site listing, yahoo.com.
- I continued this process all the way down Alexa.com'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 xtendmedia.com.
- 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!