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Development Modes (2) – SLT

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 15 August 2017 00:05


There was nothing wrong with my internet connection. At a click of a button I was connected to the universe, emails, news, TV – it was good. 

There were exciting things happening in the country, an international cricketing encounter in Colombo, an impending no confidence motion in Parliament, speculated Cabinet changes and I was not going to miss a single ball. 

The  world outside was equally absorbing, an errant North Korea being dangerously provocative, the youngish French President indulging in an exercise of  jobbery for his  mentor wife and  the  ever improving entertainment value of the US President on screen are some of the goings-on that kept me riveted to the internet. Then, there were the movies on Peo TV (HBO Cinema World) – not to be missed; elegant, intelligent and absorbing cinema.

Today, most of our interactions with friends – near and far, business and other matters are on email. Miss a day, you are left far behind. It is well-nigh impossible to function without an internet connection.

I was ‘connected’, the world was well ordered – until about two weeks back. Although I didn’t know it then, on 26 July things were going to change.

Fibre optic

The doorbell rang insistently. It is not only the postman who rings twice. He kept at it, until I opened the door. Introducing himself as Assanka from the SLT he stated that I have been identified as a good customer; i.e., a person who settles his account on time. I therefore was entitled to convert my telecom wiring into fibre optic cables, more efficient and much faster, he assured me. Of course, there is the matter of a small payment, Rs. 7,500 which could also be paid in three instalments.

I saw no reason to change a system that was working well for me. There was nothing wrong with my internet, Peo TV and so on, I told him.

Assanka perhaps realised that he was confronting a technology averse existence. The man did not walk in the hot sun to my house to be denied by this old fashioned being, resisting the forward march of the SLT. I was subject to a lengthy pep-talk, replete with internet jargon while he also drew an attractive picture of future savings, in time and even money. The young man’s beseeching finally persuaded me. I asked him whether the Rs. 7,500 instalment fee could be paid in six monthly instalments. He told me that he could consider that too, and gave me his email address to confirm my acceptance. 

Almost immediately I confirmed by email. Up to now there is no acknowledgment from the travelling salesman.

A few days later, a team of two technicians from the SLT arrived at my residence. They were going to lay the fibre-optic cables in place of the existing connection. They worked competently (in my uninformed judgment) and finished their job within about an hour. After it was done, they helped themselves to the refreshments provided by me, intimated that further work has to be done before completing the assignment and left. In order to install the new cables they had to move a few pieces of light furniture in the house, a small table and a stand. These were not put back in place I noticed.

A few hours later I ceased to be connected to the world, there was no internet, no email, no TV.

Uncertain of the mysteries of the fibre optic I waited for a day-and-a-half for the connection to work routinely.

Then I thought of calling the all-purpose 1212 (complaints). A polite yet uncertain voice tells you that he/she will send a notice immediately to the area manager (I think Havelock Town). Despite a number of calls to 1212 it took three days for the Havelock Town team to act. Finally a second team (of two) arrived and fixed yet another cable to my router. To my joy this new addition got the internet going. They told me that the TV also should work now.

Alas, when I sat down to watch TV only a few channels were working! So again back to 1212 I went. The weak voice told me that the process is not complete yet and that she will inform Havelock Town of my problem.

I have no doubts that sooner or later, at a date and a time of which I cannot be certain, this will be corrected and my Peo TV will come back to normal. The visiting teams never confirm a time; you are expected to be at home awaiting their arrival.

Why one team could not have completed the process in one effort and why an existing (and working line) has to stop working for so long for a supposed improvement is beyond my comprehension. One would have thought that the second team (that got my internet working) would have checked the workings of all connected services, including the TV. Despite a number of calls to 1212, and the visit of two technical teams to my residence, the services I enjoy and pay for, have not  been yet fully restored (day 9).

Services are so wanting

We talk of attracting investments and the Ease of Doing Business index. This is all tosh when at a ground level our services are so wanting. The big talk about ease of doing business is just empty words of people who have no idea about providing a modern service. 

Individually, I cannot find any fault with either of the teams that visited me or even the voice at 1212. They were polite and as far as I could observe did what was expected of them. Living in a country of poor work standards, we are happy when a workman finally turns up for work, does something for a period of time, is communicative and leaves without creating some mayhem.  But it must be said that a system that muddles up an existing and a working internet line for more than one week in this manner (for which I will have to pay, including the period when I was without internet service) leaves much to be desired.

Every minute things are happening, developing, changing; one delayed email can have an adverse and irreversible impact on your business/professional work.

In one week, given a bit of luck, even a Government department would give some service. In the public sector, the average recipient of the service is treated as an unfortunate who must wait patiently for the public servant to dole out the provisions/service. Even a two-line letter could take weeks in the hands of a public servant (many are graduates of our universities). Most of the services offered by the Government are free of charge.

SLT is a business venture

But the SLT is not a Government department. It is a business venture, charging money for every service it provides. Out in the market the SLT is competing for customers with other similar service providers. In its advertising, the SLT holds out much to the customer. Unless it is a monopoly, there is no way a private sector service provider could thrive merely by keeping to the pace (and quality) of the services provided by our public (Government) sector. 

In the newspapers we often see pictures of the leading personalities of the SLT. Generally, they accompany a glowing story of an achievement by the large corporation. Since the Government is a major shareholder of SLT, several of these officials are Government nominees, in other words, political appointees. They are not specialised telecommunication workers, nor famed for their managerial skills. Even in appearance, often there is more of the “public servant” than the dynamic service provider in them. Although these political appointees can claim very little for the company’s achievements, there is no embarrassment in basking in the limelight. That alone should give us an insight into their make-up.

The SLT culture is mishmash, holding out to be a dynamic corporate, but in reality led by outsiders, given to a culture of acquiring political patronage by any means. For such a mindset, a day, a week or even a month of a customer amounts to nothing. Fibre optic cables may make communication fast, but the SLT processes are anything but speed oriented.

Although the high-ups in the company may not be aware of it, or even if aware, indifferent about it, in the outside world every minute counts and every customer is precious.

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