Sunday, November 16, 2014

An invitation to victimization

This is my column today November 16, 2014.


Perhaps I am just a naturally cynical person who couldn’t recognize altruism even if it were wrapped in gold and served on bended knees.  I will admit to being particularly suspicious every single time our telecommunications companies announce promos that seem too good to be true. 
Having been victimized many times over by all three major telcos that operate in the country, I think I can be allowed to offer this unsolicited advice:  The best kind of corporate social responsibility program that our telcos can offer is to improve their current services.  Internet connectivity in this country is horribly slow and we continue to be bottom feeders in Asia in terms of Internet speed.  Giving existing customers exactly what they pay for - and it wouldn’t hurt if they actually exceed the expectations and provide faster speed and reliable and easy connectivity - seem like good examples of outstanding corporate citizenship. 
But we Filipinos like having big aspirations.  We like to push the envelop, explore new frontiers, lengthen our reach even if we still haven’t mastered the basics.  It’s like aiming to get a doctorate in physics even as we struggle with basic algebra. 
So when one of our telcos recently made a big to do about bringing the rest of the country up to speed with the rest of the world by making Internet access available to everyone - and for free at that - I automatically presumed it was yet another marketing campaign shot through with a lot of conditions and caveats in fine print.  I wasn’t mistaken.  The so-called “free” Internet access was actually limited.  And if we come to think about it, it is really not free because the users and other subscribers end up paying for it one way or the other.
To be fair, the goal seemed noble enough.  Getting more Filipinos on board the Internet bandwagon is a lofty goal.  Just imagine the kind of benefits farmers would have if only they discover the infinite breadth of resources available for them online - from videos, to reading materials, to advice and consulting services.  I once showed my father (who was a farmer until he retired about a decade ago) instructional videos on YouTube on new farming technologies. He became so inspired to try them out that we ended up taking turns watching over him and making sure he didn’t attempt to put on his work clothes and get a relapse from a broken hip and knee. 
Imagine, too, how much more creative teachers can become if they get exposed to various innovative instructional methods from across the world; or how much more interactive priests can be if they acquire better jokes or learn from the more engaging preachers out there.  These possibilities, however, are immediately squelched by the fact that the free Internet service being offered does not actually cover video streaming.  In fact, the assigned daily limit would barely be enough to do anything meaningful.  
And this is when we come to terms with the business side of the promotion, which is that it is really just meant to entice people to test the service and, hopefully, get hooked to enroll and pay for regular Internet connection.  When they do, they become part of the statistics of people who suffer from slow or intermittent or weak Internet connectivity.  It’s basically an invitation to get victimized.
Anyway.  What really got me to write about this topic were two related incidents that happened at home recently. 
I had an assortment of nephews and nieces who spent their semestral break at my house and as can be expected, everyone was maintaining virtual presence through their laptops, mobile phones, and other gadgets 24/7.  At one point, I checked the number of Internet connections available and was stunned to find more Internet services than there were people in the house.  In addition to the LAN connection at home, some had personal Internet accounts that could be shared via hot spot; in addition, each one carried a pocket wi-fi or two subscribed to various post- or pre-paid plans!  Because Internet speed was spotty, they basically switched from one service provider or connection to another depending on which was offering faster speed at any given time.  It’s a waste of resources, but this is exactly what we are forced to do by our telcos - be creative, resourceful, and yes, keep on spending unnecessarily.
A brother whose house was partially destroyed by the supertyphoon in Tacloban was in Manila recently and asked me if I could intercede for him in his fight with a telco.  Before Yolanda struck, they had an Internet connection at their home.  The supertyphoon obviously cut all services and to date, they still do not have Internet connection at their house.  Ironically, their Internet bills have not stopped arriving. As of last month, they were being charged close to P20,000 for Internet services for the period between November 2013 and the months thereafter.  Worse, they were already getting the usual demand letters that threatened legal action.  I told him to ignore the bills and the threats, but the poor guy is not used to the ways of big business. 

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