What happens when telephone and internet services are disrupted for 10 days in your neighbourhood? P Ramakrishnan recounts his frustration in trying to get Telekom to restore services.
I didn’t realise how bad our telephone services are until recently – incredibly, it is atrocious!
It has been more than seven days since telephone services have been disrupted in the Gelugor area in Penang. The affected area is huge, and thousands of households have been without this essential service for more than a week.
How much longer will this disruption continue? There is no announcement.
How serious is this disruption? There is no announcement.
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What has caused this disruption? There is no announcement.
When will services be restored? There is no announcement.
Affected households are kept in the dark and forced to suffer great inconvenience in utter frustration.
DAY ONE: Monday, 9 September 2013
According to a neighbour, the telephone line was disrupted early in the morning at three o’ clock. Her internet service went dead. Later in the morning, she rings up Telekom to report the disruption and is told that she is the first to report this.
At around 8 o’ clock, I become aware of this problem while trying to make a call. The whole of Monday the line is dead. At this point, I am not aware that the disruption is so massive. I am under the impression that only a few houses have been affected. As my neighbour has already reported this problem, I don’t bother to call up Telekom to lodge a complaint.
DAY TWO: Tuesday, 10 September
There is still no line this morning. I dial 100 to make a report. A pre-recorded voice tells me to press 1 to report service fault, 2 for billing, 3 for….. 4 for…..
Then I am told to key in the area code followed by the telephone number. A nameless voice repeats this number and I am asked to confirm the number by pressing 1.
This is followed by other instructions asking me to press this and that.
Finally, I am asked to hold on while they try to connect me to Customer Service. In the meantime, I am treated to advertisements for various TM products.
At long last, a highly accented voice comes on, “How can I assist you?”
I mention my problem, “My line is dead; no tone.”
Unbelievably, he asks, “Are you making a call from this phone?”
I reply, “Hello, friend, I just told you that my line is dead. How can I make a call from this phone?”
I ask for my report number and he says, “How can I give you the report number when I haven’t keyed in the report?”
I tell him that I cannot see from where I am and that is why I asked for the report number.
Later, he gives me my report number.
I ask him when the disrupted service will be restored.
In 24 hours, he says, and then asks whether I am satisfied with the service.
I reply, not at all. I tell him that in the beginning I had already keyed in my telephone number and confirmed it but he was asking the same question when he already has the number.
He replies that that is the system!
Later in the afternoon, I receive a message from TM:
Dear Sir/Mdm, regret to inform you there is a svc disruption in yr area. Expected restoration of yr svc by 13/9/13. TQ for yr patience.
In the past it, was so easy to make a service fault report. You dial 100 and a human voice attends to you. You mention your complaint and then you are given a report number as reference. It was that easy and so simple.
This modern method, instead of making it simpler, makes it so very difficult and complicated for senior citizens and those who are unable to follow instructions on the phone. This is indeed distressing!
Now, apart from all those confusing instructions, our call is prolonged: TM advertises its products while we wait to be connected to Customer Service at our expense. The longer it takes, the more you end up paying especially when the call has to be made from a mobile phone.
DAY FIVE: Friday, 13 September
Telephone service has not been restored and there has been no communication regarding this from TM whatsoever.
I ring up to enquire. Of course, I have to go through the entire rigmarole: press this and that; confirm your number; relate problem; give your report number; they recognise you; mention your name and confirm your mobile number. Then you are put through to Customer Service after a considerable time waiting while listening to their advertisements.
I tell them it is the 13th today and still no service and I ask what the problem is.
The reply is shocking: I’m told the underground cables have been stolen! Not sure when the service will resume.
Where were these cables stolen, I ask.
Don’t know, is the answer.
I ask them whether there will be a discount on my billing since the service has been disrupted.
Yes, I was told, but I have to call their billing department and give my report number when the internet starts working.
I ask what happens to those who have not reported the disruption.
There will not be any discount for them.
I tell her that this information should have been made public so that the subscribers could take advantage of this discount. Since the fault was reported by some, others may justifiably feel there is no need for them to report as well.
There is no sensible response to this point.
I ask them why they need so many people to make the same report? Isn’t that a waste of time? How many reports have you received so far?
258, I was told.
Will the line be restored by today, I ask.
A technician will call you later to update you, I was told.
But that call never comes.
DAY SIX: Saturday, 14 September
At 2.30 pm, I receive a call from TM enquring if anybody had contacted me.
I tell the person that a technician was supposed to have called me the previous day but that call never came.
I am told that the service will be restored tonight.
But nothing happens.
DAY SEVEN: Sunday, 15 September
I ring up TM at 11.15am. After going through all the hassle as previously, I get to speak to Customer Service.
When will the service be restored?
Don’t know. Cables have been stolen.
I ask where; in which area?
In Gelugor but not sure of the location, I am told.
I ask, why is it necessary for all to complain? Can’t the discount be given to those affected?
No, it won’t be given to all in that area; only to those who complain individually.
So far, how many have complained, I query.
2,991, I am told.
There are also many more who have not reported for various reasons. I go around, wanting to inform subscribers to report. But many are not in at that time. I inform the few who are around to make a report and get the report number for a discount.
Three households living side by side inform me that they do not know how to complain and had asked their opposite neighbour to complain on their behalf. Unfortunately, he had not asked for the report number!
DAY EIGHT: Monday, 16 September
At 9.51 am, Telekom calls me to find out if my line is working.
On being told that it isn’t, she is unable to tell me when the service will be restored. I am promised that I will be kept updated.
I ask how many have reported so far.
She replies over a hundred.
I tell her she needs to update her figures, because on Sunday, I was told that 2,991 had reported.
At 9.35pm, I call the TM toll free number 1300888123. I have to go through the same process of pressing this and that and finally I am connected to Customer Service.
He has all my details. I am told that the technicians are having difficulty. They are trying to replace the cable. Unable to tell me when the service will be restored.
I ask how many have reported.
He is unable to access this information and informs me that the technician will call the next day to update me.
I tell him that that was what they told me but that call did not come through.
He promises me he will highlight my case.
DAY NINE: Tuesday, 17 September
At 1.00pm, I receive a call from Telekom. I am told that my line will be available the next day. They hope to solve the problem by then.
I tell him that it has already been 10 days.
He explains that there were so many ‘cabinets’ affected. Each cabinet has more than 40 lines.
I ask how many cabinets are involved and he replies 50.
I ask how many cabinets have been attended to and he says one or two!
I ask how many lines there are in my cabinet and he informs me that there are more than 40 lines.
He says they will keep me updated about the progress.
This prolonged disruption has made our lives very difficult. There is no internet service. There is no way to follow news and keep abreast with what is happening. Business correspondence has come to a total standstill.
No internet banking. We are unable to skype with loved ones. Emails are clogging up our inboxes. Urgent correspondence cannot be attended to. In many ways, this disruption has caused a lot of inconvenience and headache.
Yet, there is no explanation; no apology; no sense of urgency.
Why does it take so long to restore the service? What is the problem? Have we run out of cables? Don’t we have competent technicians to solve this?
How long have we to put up with this miserable situation?
Telekom, where is your social responsibility?
Update: Services to Rama’s house were finally restored on Day 12, 20 September, three days after this article was published.