Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A tale of de-regulation and madness

As I mentioned elsewhere, bureaucrats do not belong to public sector only, but lurk and thrive in organisations big and small of all types.

Granted, large corporations have a much greater share of them: and, these days, you don't get much bigger than a former telecom state monopoly - so here's a tale of bureacracy madness from Italy, where the love for the 'carta bollata' (that could liberally translated into 'legalised paperwork' - not even sure there's an English equivalent: comments sought and welcome!) has joined forces with the Italian newfound disregard for customer service.

It so happens that my dad used to have a broadband (ADSL) service with the former state monopoly incumbent (Telecom Italia): if not a great service (try and get hold of a 'customer care representative' - let alone get anything sorted) it did provide what it was supposed to, a fast(ish) connection to the 'Net.

Being from a generation that went through the war, I can hardly blame him for being thrifty and, having resigned himself to my living in sunny England, he also had signed up with Tele2 to take advantage of lower international call rates.

However, being naturally suspicios of "offers too good to be true," he had steadfastly refused to take up repeated, insisting and, let's face it, mildly bullying Tele2's offers to sign up to additional plans and offers.

The Tele2 folks must have resented his stubborn attitude, so they decided, without consulting him, to upgrade his existing plan to a flat-rate offer that, on the face of it, was not so convenient to him.
However, wisely realising that it would have been more trouble to terminate it than pay the few extra monthly euros, my dad accepted this one as just the last in a string of little administrative abuses one has to endure if one lives in Italy.

That was probably his mistake, I would guess: emboldened by a seeming submissive attitude on the customer's part, the Tele2 bureacrats made the subsequent move, going straight to Telecom and claiming him as their customer and asking Telecom to transfer the line (for those of technically inclined mind, they 'unbundled' him).

This, mind you, without telling him, without gaining proper signed authorisation, without even bothering to actually connect him to their systems either.

Telecom Italia is obliged, by the Italian Communication Authority, to release a line to another competing telecom firm within a very limited timeframe (I gather it's 4-5 days) so they really can't trouble themselves with details such customer's authorisations (let alone his wishes) - they just hurl it over the wall to Tele2 and forget all about it.
Of course, both firms could put in place systems to ensure mistakes are minimised: but why bother when the Authority is clueless as to how to enforce good behaviour and customers are powerless to do anything about it.

To cut a long story short, in November he lost access to broadband (Telecom had dutifully terminated his subscription - to add insult to injury, he now owes them Eur150 for "early contract termination") and after a few weeks voice telephony was terminated too.

Tele2 in the meantime did NOT connect him to its own systems, nor bothered to return calls, faxes, letters, pigeons and drum signals - my dad would have happily travelled to their offices to sort the matter out: sadly, in true 21st Century enterprise fashion, they seem to have none: all one is left is calling their call centres ("Press 1 for existing customers, 2 for sales, 3 for billing enquiries, 4 for upgrading your services, 5 for technical support and 6 to repeat these options again" - sadly, if your number doesn't come up (they hardly have "press 11 if you are pissed off with us and want to talk to someone with a few neurons left") you are pretty much stuck.

Telecom Italia wasn't much help either: having released the line to Tele2, all they could provide as help was "we'll reconnect you as soon as Tele2 releases the line" - which, incidentally, they are not obliged to do (as they may be clueless, but are not incumbents - hence the Authority lets them off the hook).

Considering legal action in Italy is obviously out of the question: one might as well move house and take up a new telephone line in the new place - probably cheaper and certainly less exhausting.

So, two months on, here we are: no broadband, no telephone line, and no end in sight for a saga that is probably funny for those not involved, but sadly marks another victory for the bureacrats and, yet again, a defeat for common sense and decency.

The tale continues...