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TSTT 'sorry' not going far enough

Sunday 12th June, 2005

By now, Trinidad and Tobago must have got the message that TSTT, the telecommunications monopoly, regrets the collapse of its GSM cellphone service between May 31 and June 1.

The company has repeatedly expressed its apologies to many thousands of subscribers cut off for countless hours, while engineers scrambled here and in Texas to find and fix what had gone so disastrously wrong.

Replying in yesterday's Guardian to a June 3 editorial, Carlos Espinal, chief executive of TSTT, signed a letter repeating that the company “sincerely regrets the service interruption to its GSM mobile customers.”

The inconvenience and loss suffered by subscribers on May 31-June 1 may be fading into history as water under the bridge.

Mr Espinal, however, gave the risky assurance that “we would make sure that it does not happen again.”

Sure! That is likely to be the sceptical response to such assurances from subscribers persuaded by TSTT that buying into GSM is taking a passport for entry into a higher-performance cellphone world of tomorrow.

An April 11 TSTT “customer advisory” all but told people still hooked up to its TDMA network cellphone service, the predecessor to GSM, that they risked becoming a dying breed.

The company announced in the ad that it was discontinuing prepaid service for people still linked by TDMA.

But it described this arrangement as an example of how “we're improving our service to you,” pointing out that, by contrast, GSM customers stood only to benefit.

The advertisement was a hardly veiled promotion for GSM. This, TSTT has been urging, is the way to go—the GSM way.

But for reliability of service, GSM had never been recognised as superior in the actual experience of customers able to compare.

So that GSM retained the reputation of a bill of goods that had been sold by TSTT, before it could deliver on it, to unsuspecting customers. The latter have lacked any recourse the high expectations encouraged by TSTT's marketing remained unmet.

The TSTT CEO's letter confirmed the company knew GSM could not deliver on the expectations its promotion had raised. It's unrealistic, he wrote, to have expected TSTT to “build a network on a one-off basis that will meet customers demands all at once.”

GSM customers were expected to suffer the system's developmental pains. But in all the pro-GSM build-up, were the buyers ever warned, “Beware”?

It was thus a letdown of incomparable proportions on May 31 when, for extended hours, GSM subscribers could neither call nor be called.

In his letter yesterday, Mr Espinal, described a lengthy anatomy of his service collapse, and took readers through the layers of technical foul-ups.

He blamed Nortel, TSTT's own North American-based service provider, for failing to live up to assurances.

T&T customers, in their turn, have to blame only TSTT, which happily took their money, promised superior service, and delivered that costly fiasco of May 31-June 1.

Following other company managers, Mr Espinal also displayed himself as falling on his knees to beg the forgiveness of already long-suffering customers who, beholden to a monopoly service provider, literally have nowhere to turn—for now.

The official Telecommunications Authority, as far as the public knows, simply shrugged off the big GSM failure.

Meanwhile, significantly, Mr Espinal is not addressing the question of compensation to cell users for loss and inconvenience.

A June TSTT release had promised the company “will be looking at ways to compensate our customers.”

Like other sorry TSTT statements since, Mr Espinal's letter either backs away from or pointedly ignores the question of compensation also raised in the June 3 editorial.

To whom should customers turn, Mr Espinal?

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Trinidad and Tobago News

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