“Highest cell phone bill ever accrued in the United States” isn’t a record anybody wants to hold, but it looks like the honor goes to a woman named Celina Aarons from Florida. The year was 2011. A pre-Legere T-Mobile was struggling and going through a bit of an identity crisis. It didn’t help much that they had yet to cement their reputation as the “cheap” carrier, undercutting the bigger dogs in the park to gain more customers. Celina Aarons was one of their customers, along with her two deaf and mute brothers. Naturally, the three exchanged a ton of text messages.
The trouble started when one of the brothers, Shamir, took a two-week holiday in Canada. At a rate of $10 per megabyte, videos being downloaded cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 a pop. Add this to the massive amount of text messages going back and forth and, though the rates seem unfair and even outrageous, the math doesn’t lie; at the end of the bill cycle, the family plan with Celina’s name on it had a balance of $201,005.44. There have been tons of other cases of bill shock, both in the U.S. and throughout the world, but in the just under five years since this incident, there has not been any record of a higher non-business cell phone bill in the U.S. for a single month of service.
The story did have a somewhat happy ending, of course. Even before Legere took the helm and transformed T-Mobile, their customer service was nothing to scoff at. They wound up reducing Selina’s bill to $2,500 and giving her six months to pay it off, resulting in chunks lower than $500. Still crazy expensive, but manageable for those on somewhat decent income scales. In the intervening years, T-Mobile has, under Legere and after merging with MetroPCS, gone through an insane amount of culture change, including fighting against exactly this sort of thing. Today’s Un-Carrier is indeed a markedly different beast from the company that gave a customer a few notifications via text and then sent them a bill equal to twice the value of a low to mid-range home in Florida, but the record is set and, for now, T-Mobile will forever have the distinct honor of charging a customer with the U.S.’s highest-ever phone bill.