CAIRO: The increase of internet users and the growing dependence on the medium have put Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under the spotlight, especially with subscribers voicing discontent with the type of service they pay for.
The time taken to install the service and inadequate technical support lead the list of complaints. It might take up to a month and a half to install ADSL service, and even longer to reach a technical support agent when things go wrong, leaving many internet users frustrated with their service providers.
Many customers complain about the delays in installing the ADSL service. We were not happy with the service provided by Link Dot Net, so we switched to TE Data, said Soad El Beleidy, When we finally reached them, they said they needed at least three weeks to switch the service from the previous provider and an additional three to install the service, but it took them even longer.
Ahmed Osama, product marketing and government affairs director at TE Data – the largest internet service provider in Egypt with 180,000 subscribers – said that most of the delays in installation are related to the landline infrastructure.
In order to install the ADSL service, the customer needs to be connected to the district s central telephone office by a copper cable, he explained. If this is the case, installation takes no longer than a week. If there are any other technologies that Telecom Egypt uses like fiber or UNO lines, it is much more complicated.
In such cases, we have to make special arrangements with Telecom Egypt on a case-by-case basis, he added. These arrangements usually involve investigating if there are other residents in the vicinity of the customer s house who are connected via a copper cable and have not applied for an ADSL service.
In some areas like El Taggamo El Awwal, there are no copper lines so we tell potential customers on the spot that we can t install ADSL, he said, but in areas like Maadi, where Telecom Egypt uses a mix of different technologies that is not even pre-defined on Telecom Egypt s database, we have to submit a request to Telecom Egypt and wait for their response, which takes some time.
Tamer Gadalla, commercial director of TE Data, said, “We are working with Telecom Egypt on large-scale solutions that involve upgrading their infrastructure. Until this happens, we just do our best to make this process as seamless as possible for the customer.
“When we tell people that the service problem is related to the land line service, they get frustrated, Osama said, “but it’s really true. When it rained last week, for instance, the phone service was horrible. This also applies to ADSL which uses the same infrastructure.
The problem many users are facing, however, is not only about the delay in installation as much as the discrepancy between the time the service provider commits to and the time it actually takes them to install the ADSL service.
Asked why they do not give customers a range instead of an average, Gadalla said, “It is ridiculous to give customers a range of four days to one month. This way, we will lose our credibility. In addition, if you tell the customer it will take a month to install the service and you install it within five days, they might refuse to pay for the first 25 days of usage.
“We compensate customers for the delay, if and only if, it is a TE Data problem, such as when a hardware vendor delays a shipment of ports. In such cases, the customer gets one day free of charge for every day of delay.
Regardless of the nature of the problem users face, all complaints were about the amount of time it takes to reach a technical support officer.
“I tried to call Link Dot Net’s customer service center and it took forever to get connected, sending me from one number to another. At the end I just hung up, said Sara El Sayed.
“It takes a minimum of 20 minutes to get through to a real person when you call for troubleshooting help, but they are patient and helpful when you reach them, said Yasmine El Baradie, a TE Data customer.
“My connection kept crashing and it got a lot slower than the speed I was used to when we first got our high speed 2Mbps internet connection, said Abdel Aziz Aidaros, a Link Dot Net customer, “I kept trying to reach the technical support to fix those problems . It took two days to schedule an appointment.
TE Data admits that it has a serious problem with their call center. “We grew tremendously, and a tad over our own expectations in the last few months, Osama said, “but we have not grown internally at the same pace.
“It all started when the new metered service was introduced to the market, as opposed to the traditional unlimited service, Gadalla said, “with this new service, we had a very limited time to change the configurations of all our customers so that we can define every user and measure their daily internet usage.
“We had to do this even for subscribers who do not wish to switch to the new service at the moment, because one day they might call up and ask for the daily usage, he said.
Because changing user configuration for all customers is a long and tedious process, TE Data outsourced this task to contractors, but according to Osama, the contractors are not as qualified and well-trained as the TE Data technical support team.
“We are doing our best by increasing the number of customer service agents and upgrading our customer relationship management system, Osama said, “hopefully the customers will feel these changes by the beginning of 2008.
According to Osama, TE Data have six main customer service offices in Egypt.
“We are trying to provide the customers with more options to get the basic functions such as bill payment done, he said, “this is why we are expanding these offices, and this is why we opened in some B-tech branches. We will also introduce the online payment service very soon.
Despite repeated efforts to reach Link Dot Net, Daily News Egypt has not received comments from the service provider as of press time.
National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) has a hotline (155) and a complaint form that you can submit online at www.ntra.gov.eg. However, not many customers are aware of this service.
“We run ads in local newspapers to increase awareness about our services, said NTRA spokesperson Karim Soliman. “We are revamping our advertising strategy and will put more ads in pages that have a wider readership, namely sports pages.
According to Soliman, when the NTRA issues a license to a company, the contract includes an article that puts a limit on the amount of customer complaints the company can receive. If they exceed that limit, there are sanctions that vary from a monetary fine to banning the company from signing on new subscribers .
“What we do is make them submit a plan to put more investments and increase their internet capacity and once they start implementation, we [raise] the sanctions, Soliman added, “Last year, we applied these [sanctions] on two service providers.
The problem is that customers have to get a complaint number first from their service provider, which is sometimes hard to do with all the time it takes to reach customer service agents.
“We filed a complaint with (the NTRA) before, but apparently you can only to refer to them after your complaint has reached the top manager of the service provider, and they still didn’t fix it, said Mai Dawood, “You have to keep complaining until the manager doesn’t respond, then you can take the complaint number to the NTRA.