Open Letter to Bell: Phone Quality

November 2nd, 2011 by Potato

There was recently a problem with Bell’s phone lines in Markham. It had been ongoing for weeks, and though it didn’t affect me directly, I do have friends and family caught up in the problem. It’s not a constant problem: the phones become useless in the rain. So it has to be raining, which makes diagnosis tough, especially when Bell doesn’t take the issue seriously enough to send service techs out until the day after a complaint is made. Even then, many times the techs (though themselves pleasant and hard-working) didn’t seem to be fully informed: one person might complain and Bell would dispatch a tech, and another person next door would do the same, and Bell might dispatch another tech, and the techs would never be told that the problem was affecting more than one house.

In the power outage of 2003, we were without power for days. The battery backups for our radios and cell phones went dead, as would the backup batteries for a competing phone technology like a VOIP system or Rogers digital phone. But Bell’s POTS worked, and continued to keep us in touch with the power company and our relatives across the country while the blackout was resolved. It is said to have “five nines” of reliability: it works 99.999% of the time, which comes out to about 5 minutes of downtime per year.

That is the one reason we are still with Bell: the call quality and clarity is so much better than a cell phone, and the reliability cannot be touched by VOIP or digital systems.

Except for customers in Markham, where Bell has failed them. In an area spanning several blocks, affecting many customers, their phones simply stop working in the rain. Sometimes it’s merely bad quality: crackling and popping noises that drown out any attempt at talking, though perhaps in theory some communications could still be made (e.g., dialing out to 911, at least enough for them to receive caller ID information). Sometimes though, the phone fails to work entirely. No dial-tone, no ringing in, nothing.

That this has been going on as long as it has is unacceptable. I understand that intermittent problems are the worst to try to diagnose and fix, but rain, though intermittent, is not exactly beyond our ability to predict. Bell gets the weather network, too. Bell could have laid all-new wire in that neighbourhood by now, and at least should have looked ahead to the forecast and had someone standing by to try to finally solve the problem the next time it rained.

But the phones weren’t ringing in Markham. Though they are ringing in Bell’s call centre. One long-time customer has called almost 20 times now, first to get the technical problem resolved, and then to get the customer loyalty one fixed.

This doesn’t even directly affect me, but I’m pissed off. Reliability really is Bell’s only selling feature: though Robbers Rogers certainly doesn’t put too much effort into competing for POTS customers, Bell is not really all that price competitive. Certainly not for feature-laden phone packages. And people aren’t exactly staying for the cheery and helpful customer service. So when reliability is gone, what’s left? I ask Bell: how are they going to make this right?

So far, they’ve offered to refund a portion of one month’s bill: the local calling component, which was largely nonfunctional anyway. But no refund of the long distance plan (which was equally useless for much of the month), no good faith go-forward discount, no sorry-for-the-terrible-inconvenience incentive, no cash to compensate for the many cell phone minutes used up while the landline was dead in the water. In short, no admission that taking weeks to solve a problem might be anything other than par for the course.

Bell: it’s time to step it up.

Comments are closed.