Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Jamaica’s cell hell

Published:Monday | January 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Many years ago, our premier cellular phone service provider disappointed its subscribers so much that many of us migrated to the new kid on the block. At first, its service was dependable, except for coverage. Nonetheless, we stuck it out until things improved. However, over the past few years, the quality of that service has deteriorated horribly.

Dropped calls, 'dead' zones, several days before (important) voicemails are delivered, breaking up of many calls, and a busy network became the order of the day for the younger cell phone provider.

It got so bad that about three years ago, in a plaintive piece in this newspaper, I deduced that the new kid had seduced too many subscribers without the requisite ability to handle the load. The company replied apologetically in a letter to the editor and had individuals call to see if, as a consumer, I could identify some specific problems and offer some solutions.

No improvement

I did, but Digicel's service did not improve; in fact, it has deteriorated even further. Now, no matter where you are, you are liable to experience several or all of the following:

n Outgoing calls often fail to be completed.

n Outgoing and incoming calls are often dropped very early.

n Outgoing and incoming calls are sometimes completed, but the parties cannot hear each other (This will make you think that your instrument is defective; it is not).

n Calls break up regularly, no matter where you are.

n Many 'dead' zones, all across the island and on every highway (where you need a cell phone the most in case there is an emergency).

n Numerous false announcements stating that the call cannot be completed as dialled.

n Numerous false busy signals.

n Numerous false announcements claiming that your party is not available.

n Numerous 'the network is busy' announcements.

n Calls go straight to voicemail, even when the other party's phone is turned on.

n Poor-quality calls/signals.

n Undependable and often poor smartphone data service.

I became frustrated with the new kid and grew tired of waiting on number portability, so I bought a postpaid SIM card for LIME. I was hoping for better service, a great backup and coverage when the new kid failed. However, I was flabbergasted and disappointed to find that the cellular service provided by the older service provider was just as bad.

Both cell phone providers are extremely busy promoting their products to recruit more subscribers. Both are making numerous millions because of Jamaica. In spite of all the hype and glitter, both are providing very substandard service. One is more expensive and provides confusing plans and bundles that I just can't remember, follow or understand.

Proper surveys

Obviously, none carries out proper consumer surveys. They must do this in order to identify and quantify the problems. And, if you call in to report serious and specific problems with the service, you get recordings, rerouting, delays, and long waits (the advertised online 'help desk' of one provider isn't working).

Eventually, you will get to speak with a very pleasant agent who cannot help you, and there is no way (in person, by phone, messages or email) to get to the people higher up who can. Jamaicans deserve much better service in these modern times that depend so much on technology for communicating.

Now I feel like I'm caught between Scylla and Charybdis, the devil and the deep blue sea, a rock and a hard place. It's six of one and half dozen of the other. Neither provides dependable service. Neither can be counted on in a life-threatening emergency.

My real disappointment is in the regulating bodies, the various government administrations (that rake in many millions in heavily taxed phone services) and the consumer protection entities that remain silent on these very serious and egregious issues. We are getting extremely poor service, and no one is helping us.

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.