Get thee to an ombudsman

Hi there, welcome to my shop. As you can see we have a lovely array of goods on sale and for your shopping pleasure, no prices.

Hi there, welcome to my shop. As you can see we have a lovely array of goods on sale and for your shopping pleasure, no prices.

That's right, you have to bring every single item up to the counter for a price check. Great, isn't it? What do you mean you don't want to pay by the kilogram for that book? All books are sold that way these days. Didn't you know? And that teddy bear is sold under a perpetual licence granting you unlimited access to said bear for only $29.95 a month. What do you mean you want to pay once only? Have a nice day.

When it comes to commercial dealings there are a number of pieces of legislation in place to prevent shop owners from doing the dirty. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has a unit that looks after, well, units and the measuring of same. There's a team at the Commerce Commission that investigates allegations of skullduggery amongst business and their advertising. If you have a problem with your bank or your insurer you can go to the Ombudsman's Office and if you have a problem with your telco you can call me.

That's right, in the fight against the perils of injustice, overpricing and dodgy IP transfers, I'm your first, last and only line of defence. If I've got time. If there isn't a vitally important virus story that needs writing up. Or a lunch.

Don't you think it's about time we got ourselves a telecommunications ombudsman's office to do this kind of work?

Over the years we've seen a plethora of complaints about various telecommunications practices, ranging from pricing to outages to the user's inability to see what they're being charged for. There isn't a damned thing any of us can do about it except hope the company doesn't stiff us too badly.

Take the issues around Telecom's new 256kbit/s JetStream Surf packages. We've received a number of complaints about delays in switching over to the new service. Because of Telecom's antiquated billing system it can take up to a month if everything goes well to get the service switched on and even longer if things go wrong.

And what about the billing meter? Every year or so Telecom promises to introduce a new billing meter that actually works. It never eventuates. Periodically I see someone in a newsgroup ask why the weights and measures unit doesn't look into it to make sure Telecom's not got its corporate thumb on the scales. The weights and measures unit tells me it would need new legislation to get involved as its job is to look at physical measurements such as length and weight and bandwidth doesn't come under its remit. The Commerce Commission doesn't do this kind of thing either, the Telecommunications Users Association (TUANZ) is really for business users not residential and so you're on your own. Isn't it time we had an ombudsman if only so we can put some of these issues to rest?

Brislen is Computerworld Online'sreporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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