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2005-09-23 16:36:00

Consumers Slam BTC 'Gall' On Line Access Increases

South Abaco residents without celluar service for more than one year but are still recieveing bills.

Bahamian consumers have slammed the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) far its "unmitigated gall" in seeking to raise business and line residential access rates after providing 30 ye m- of poor service, with South Abaco yet to see the return of cell phone service more than one year after Hurricane Jeanne struck.

In response to the Public Utilities Commission's (PUG) request for comments on BTC's proposed line access rate rises, Charles Carey e-mailed the telecommunications sector regulator to complain that Abaconians were still being "billed the full amount" for non-existent cell phone services in the south of the island.

The Cherokee Sound Tower, responsible for delivering cellular services to southern Abaco, collapsed during Hurricane Jeanne last September.

Mr. Carey wrote in his e-mail: "To date, the tower has not been repaired with the result that for the post year, cell phone service has been nonexistent in Abaco south of Spring City, yet people are being billed the full amount and no indication has been given as to when this service will be restored."

Mr. Carey added that he had applied to BTC for caller ID five months ago, and was still waiting for it to be activated. He also claimed that when he called BTC's offices, the telephone was "allowed to ring and ring" for about 14 to 20 times before it was answered.

And Mr. Carey further alleged that although telephone and Internet services on Abaco had been "interrupted for months" after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, "BTC failed to credit customers whose services they failed to restore".

Arguing that BTC should not be granted any line rental rate increases until its service improved, Mr. Carey said: "I hereby express my strong objection to any increase in rates for BTC, notwithstanding the fact that rates have not been changed for some time.

"The fact is that BTC's service has deteriorated over the years, and has reached the point where it is bad, terrible, inferior to third world countries like Jamaica, and they seem to care less about the ways they inconvenience the public."

Another BTC consumer, Michelle Davis, said in a letter to the PUC that her experience with the incumbent government-owned operator "can only be described as nightmarish".

She detailed how, when she moved into her sister's Freeport home, she attempted to get BTC to transfer the phone from her previous apartment to the new residence. But despite her sister having a phone and available lines at the property, Ms. Davis alleged that BTC gave her "the runaround for a year and would not transfer the phone there".

She added that when she left Freeport to move to Nassau, she went to BTC and asked them to refund her deposit, telling the company that she no longer needed the line she had spent one year unsuccessfully attempting to get transferred.

Although BTC promised to mail the refund, Ms. Davis said: "I left the very next day and received a call from my niece in Freeport telling me BTC was there to install my phone.

"A few months later I received a bill from BTC for the year when they didn't allow me the use of my phone in the amount of $256. They sent me a bill instead of a refund. How would you feel if someone does this to you?"

Attempts to call from Nassau to resolve the situation proved fruitless, Ms. Davis complained, saying BTC staff would transfer her from person to person, eventually placing her on hold and leaving her there.

This was not the end of her BTC woes. Ms. Davis said she has two postpaid cell phones, and despite paying the bills for both every month and year, "around March of the following year, BTC has calls on both bills for the year that has passed,
with only the number of my cells as reference".

She said none of these calls were hers, but could not prove this because BTC did not have the numbers. When she inquired why this was happening, BTC allegedly told her that their computer "skipped some calls" and did not list the numbers called.

"Here again, I'm at the mercy of BTC," Ms. Davis wrote: "If I don't pay for the calls that do not belong to me, BTC would then shut my phone off."

At BTC "there are a handful of employees who actually work and care about customer satisfaction; the others couldn't care less. Yet every few months, these people go on strike for a raise and they get it...go figure. They get paid well to victimise the people who make their salaries happen. Why is this happening year after year?" Ms. Davis said.

"Now they are about to hike the monthly rates on the phone lines because they've not been increased for 30 years. Well, for 30 years they've delivered no service to their customers either. When a company with the poor performance record like BTC's has the unmitigated call to propose a price hike, it makes one sick to the core.

"Where is the justice in the Bahamas?"

Source: Neil Hartnell, The Tribune

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