By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
ALIV has slammed the “massive disruption” caused by the number porting system’s temporary ‘Black Friday’ failure, which is now under investigation by regulators.Damian Blackburn, the new mobile operator’s top executive, told Tribune Business that the system delays had “hugely” impacted Aliv’s promotional drive to grow its customer base on “the busiest shopping day of the year”. He declined, though, to comment on whether he felt the disruption - which primarily impacted Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) customers wishing to switch to Aliv and keep their existing mobile phone numbers - was more than a coincidence.
BTC, in an indication that competition with Aliv is starting to heat up, hit back at its upstart mobile rival for insinuating that the system fault was part of a deliberate effort on its part to undermine the latter’s promotional campaign and efforts to pinch its subscribers.
The incumbent, in a statement to the media, blasted unnamed “provocateurs” for using the number portability issues as a way to generate “free publicity for their Black Friday initiative” offering 50 per cent discounts on handsets - a clear reference to Aliv.
BTC also sought to downplay the system glitch’s impact, arguing that it had only impacted 50 customers wishing to switch to Aliv. It added that 90 per cent of ‘porting’ requests had been completed by Friday afternoon and, in a swipe at Aliv’s drive to win subscribers, said the number of customers switching was “not much higher than normal”.
BTC’s numbers were vastly different from Mr Blackburn’s, who told Tribune Business that several hundred subscribers wishing to join Aliv had been affected.
“We went on the radio at 12 pm to tell everyone that, despite the delays, to keep coming and porting,” the Aliv chief officer revealed. “The BTC system wasn’t working this [Friday] morning; we don’t know the reason why.
“It was the biggest sales day of the year and ports weren’t going through until lunch time. We weren’t very happy. It was massive disruption. At least 200 persons were impacted this morning. There’s now about 350 ported today, most within the last couple of hours. We made a noise, and everything cleared.”
Mobile portability is vital to Bahamian consumer choice and market competition, as it enables customers to retain their existing numbers when transferring to either BTC or Aliv - a huge benefit to individuals but, especially, business persons.
The Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA), in statement, criticised the “significant and unacceptable delays” that “primarily” impacted Bahamians wanting to switch from BTC to Aliv on Friday. It promised an investigation that would “expeditiously” address the matter.
Recalling how the problems came to his attention, Mr Blackburn said: “This [Friday] morning I went to the stores and there were hundreds of guys who had been sitting there since the early hours, 8-9am.
“The disruption was so massive, huge, that it affected hundreds of people. I was waiting until 1-2pm for the ports to happen, and was faced with the prospect of turning it [the system] off or doing what I did.
“We invited customers to keep coming, and tried to make the disruption easier by giving them a temporary number, calling them back in once the system was working, and giving them a free $30 plan as compensation. We pushed through it, and have hundreds of customers joining Aliv.”
Mr Blackburn told Tribune Business that 600 subscribers had switched to Aliv by 4pm on Friday, with more anticipated to join over the weekend. He added: “We’re shooting for four figures.
“All’s well that ends well. We apologise for the inconvenience, even though it’s not our fault. We still have some customers waiting and thank them for their patience. We’re still trying to contact those who wanted to port, but couldn’t because of the system, to come back and see if they still want to do so. There’s about 60 in that category.”
When asked whether he felt the system failure was more than a coincidence, Mr Blackburn replied: “No idea. I can’t comment. I’ve been assured there was nothing intentional, but it was obviously on the biggest shopping day and created massive disruption for our customers.
“It’s very frustrating that on Black Friday BTC didn’t have their systems working, and we have tried very hard to co-operate with them to make it work. The easy thing to do would have been to stop the system and not take any more ports, but that would have been giving in. Generally persons have gone to them [BTC] and moved their number within two hours. That is not what customers have experienced on Black Friday.”
BTC immediately hit back, arguing that it experienced an “unexpected and momentary fault with its technology systems supporting the number portability process”.
The statement, issued by Nicole Watkins, BTC’s vice-president for legal, regulatory affairs and interconnection, said the company had moved to address the matter “with haste”.
“It is unfortunate that BTC, who has faithfully provided service to all parts of the Bahamas, is being publicly castigated and vilified. The mass hysteria that the provocateurs tried to create was unwarranted and unfortunate,” BTC said.
“We believe the timing of this hysterical announcement was crafted to get free publicity for their Black Friday initiative which, based on the numbers of porting requests, was not much higher than normal since their entrance into the market.
“BTC respects the rights of consumers to have the ability to choose their providers. Statements contrary to this are completely unfounded and the behaviour is alien to our culture. There were factors presented by the second mobile provider today that were out of the ordinary that seemingly ignited the issues.... BTC is also committed to enabling the second mobile provider to deliver 4G LTE services nationwide.”