NASA and Verizon

“Verizon customer service, how may I help you?”

“Yeah, hi. I think we have a problem with last month’s bill. The amount due is, let’s see here, $140 million dollars.”

“What line is this, sir?”

“This is for Mars Phoenix. You know, the rover?”

“I’m sorry sir, I’m not a sports fan. Let me check on that for you; yes, that’s right, I’m showing an outstanding balance of $143,212,700. And nine cents.”

“Uh… that’s not right.”

“Is there a specific problem with your bill, sir?”

“Yes. Look. We signed up for 20,000 minutes per month of doppler ranging, and unlimited data, for $210,000 per month. Last month’s bill is obviously wrong.”

“Let me see… ah… It looks like you you went over your maximum download limit. Says here you downloaded close to eighty gigabytes last month. Wow, sir, what was all that data if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Images from Mars! We’re NASA, man. The Mars science program generates torrents of data.”

“I’m sorry sir, but we don’t support bittorrent over our network. It’s against your terms of service.”

“What? It’s not bittorrent, it’s… never mind– and what the fuck? How can you go over usage on an unlimited data plan?”

“That was the introductory offer. Unlimited for the first six months.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No sir. If you examine your contract…”

“Listen. Listen carefully. In June we switched all our Mars spacecraft to Verizon because you assured us would be cheaper than our Deep Space Network. Simplify operations, one easy bill to pay, family discounts for multiple spacecraft, that sort of thing.”

“We pride ourselves on operating the best network in the solar system, sir.”

“Then how can my bill be five hundred times what we signed up for?”

“Well, excess data is sent at SMS rates, sir.”

“SMS… rates?”

“Yes sir. I see have a package of 400 messages included in your monthly service. After that, messages are charged at 20 cents each.”


“Yes, 20 cents for each 160 characters.”

“For 160 characters… so… for eighty gigs… ah yes, I see now: you’re insane. Look, I’m a telecom engineer, I know it doesn’t cost that much to get data from mars, okay? Your SMS rates are simply made up. They have nothing to do with reality.”

“If you’ll examine the terms of service…”

“And if you’ll just examine– what? No. Fuck! We just lost the rovers! We had five bars and now the call’s been dropped entirely. What happened?”

“Just a moment sir… I’m checking on the connection… ah, it looks like your rover went over the crater rim. I’m sorry sir, but we won’t have any coverage in the Hellas Basin until August 2009.”

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