Solomon Islands Telekom (recently re-branded “Our Telekom”) has a monopoly in the telecommunications industry. And we all know monopolies are bad – poor service, high prices, lack of innovation. I don’t care how badly we thought we had it in New Zealand before Telecom got competition, the Solomon Islands is unbelievable. The old adage that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry indeed applies to all dealings with Our Telekom. Extra time must be allowed for any interaction with them due to the frequent pauses you will take to gasp in disbelief at all of the above perils that accompany monopoly status.
The saga had its beginning in late October, when we attempted to get the telephone connected. The wires were already in place, but during housing renovations prior to our arrival, there had been some damage to the jack or something. It took three weeks for Our Telekom to fix this problem and connect the phone (the job took five minutes). Hooray, now we wouldn’t have to deal with them again for a long time…..or so we thought.
Several days prior to Christmas, the telephone stopped working, and we heard a “beep beep beep beep” every time we tried the handset. Steve duly went down to the Telekom office and informed them of the problem. Oh yes, they would send a technician out to fix it. We waited a week and a half (and missed talking to our families on Christmas Day as a result), and then Steve braved the office again. Oh yes, they would send someone that day to fix it. That day passed, and no technician had come. So, back to the office again. On this occasion, Steve was informed that our phone had been disconnected as we hadn’t paid the bill. The conversation went approximately along these lines:
Steve: Haven’t paid the bill? We haven’t received a bill!
Telekom man: We don’t send out bills.
Steve: Then why did you take a billing address when we paid for the connection? And I’ve seen bills at the hospital!
Telekom man: You have to come to the office by the 22nd of each month to pay the bill. Oh, but sometimes we send out bills.
Steve: So do you have a bill here for us?
Telekom man: No. We tried to call you.
Steve: We are at work during business hours. But we have an answering machine – you could have left a message.
Telekom man: [blank look].
Steve: You haven’t sent us a bill, and you don’t have a bill…. If we had a bill we would have paid it! Why did you disconnect us then?
Telekom man: The computer said you hadn’t paid. And now you need to pay a reconnection fee.
Steve: You didn’t mention any of the billing procedure when we got the connection, you haven’t told us what we owe, but you have disconnected us anyway. I’m not paying the reconnection fee because you made the mistake.
Telekom man: [nothing].
Steve returned home, frustrated but pleased to have received several words of thanks from locals also in the shop (probably overcharged, too) who overheard the exchange. About a week later, a bill arrived at the hospital (how about that), demanding a spectacular $800+ dollars for the month. And there was that pesky reconnection fee again! I was horrified, and checked the sub-totals, but disappointingly, they were correct. Steve looked at the bill in a little more detail, and worked out that the dial-up internet charges were not what we had been told. The quoted rate was 37c/minute (for an outrageously slow connection), yet quite a number of connections were charged at 75c/minute. Given that it may take a couple of minutes for a text-only webpage to load, this makes for very expensive Googling (and hence, no Facebook, people!). We deduced that there was an off-peak rate, and another for connections between 9:00am and 7:00pm. This called for another trip to Our Telekom’s office..
Steve: I’d like to speak to the manager
Telekom man: He’s still on holidays
Steve: Right, we received this bill, and it has a reconnection fee on it. Remember we agreed I wouldn’t pay it because you never sent us a bill?
Telekom man: The Honiara office says you have to pay it because you didn’t pay until after the date.
Steve: You didn’t tell us a date. You didn’t send us a bill! And another thing, we were told that dial-up internet is charged at 37 cents per minute. We have been charged 75 cents a minute for these connections [shows him the items on the bill].
Telekom man: Maybe the charges have gone up.
Steve: No they haven’t, look, it is 37 cents per minute for connections before 9:00am and after 7:00pm. This is not what we were told when we paid to connect to this service. I am not paying over $800 for a fee we shouldn’t have to pay, and charges that we weren’t fully informed of.
Telekom man: Well, if you want an adjustment to the charges, you need to calculate what you think was wrong and write a letter to the manager.
Steve: But isn’t it your job to do that? Surely you should be doing the calculations and bringing up the issue with your head office? Okay, I’ll pay the call charges today to avoid disconnection, but I won’t be paying that reconnection fee. And I’ll wait for the next bill for the adjustments then?
Telekom man: [nothing].
I guess now Our Telekom has decided we are in the select few who are sent a bill, we will see what horrendous charges next month will bring…Watch out for the next installments of the Our Telekom saga – what will the manager say? Will that crazy reconnection fee ever get wiped from our bill? Why do Telekom employees not know what an answering machine is? All that and more is in store, when Dial-a-drama continues.