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Cell users on hold

Newsday Editorial

It now appears that those telephone users who were looking forward to a new service by month's end will have a longer wait. Exactly why this should be so, however, remains anyone's guess. To be sure, the two players involved TSTT and Digicel have given their own versions of the facts. In a news release TSTT said that a November 30 interconnection was not possible because the company could not obtain the equipment in less than 75 days after placing the purchase order and it hasn't done so yet. Digicel, on the other hand, says that such equipment is standard issue. Digicel also says that its network can be set up within six to seven weeks once the inter-connectivity agreement is signed.

As the situation stands, it is of little use to customers to buy Digicel phones unless they can talk to other cell-phone users. So Digicel knows that, until that happens, its sales will be so slow as to be non-existent. However, this has not stopped the company from announcing its start-up date, which it cannot now postpone without a serious loss of consumer confidence. This is especially so since Digicel has chosen to take the angle that its service will be that much better than TSTT's. On the other hand, TSTT will win itself no friends amongst consumers by appearing to resist the liberalisation of the mobile phone industry. The company argues that, unless it uses the specific equipment identified, the increased traffic will create great problems for TSTT cellphone customers.

This explanation seems quite plausible, since the TSTT network already can't handle even the heightened number of calls that occur on long weekends or when a flash-flood occurs. That means that it cannot, in turn, benefit from the increased charges that more calls naturally bring. However, in this kind of matter, the truth can only be uncovered by independent technical experts. TSTT has to demonstrate improved efficiency if it is to encourage its customers to stay with the company. And Digicel will no doubt have to find some way to deal with this stumbling-block, temporary though it must be. However, with just three weeks to go until it begins service, Digicel has concentrated on running its attack ads.

Potential customers have absolutely no idea what rates will be offered, whether there will be active and dead areas, the terms and conditions of turnover minutes, roaming capabilities and other details. It is likely, however, that Digicel will sweeten its package in order to get people to sign up with it. And TSTT will have to do the same. If there is a silver lining here, it is this the economic truth about liberalisation being good for the consumer is being shown even in this dispute, since it is forcing all players to become more efficient. Cellphone users will just have to hold on a little longer, while both companies try to win their favour in the interim.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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