Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Web, Customer Service and the Importance of Communication

Pretentious title eh? Seriously though, I won't be the first in stating that we don't realise how essential the internet has become until we lose it. Yes internet is a means of communication and Communication in all its forms is vital to convey any message or a specific message....

This weekend (on Friday in this part of the world), I tried to have a little bit of chit-chat with my friends but was surprised that my home network provided a nil result in connectivity. Having installed a fax line on the same morning, I immediately assumed that I must have messed up some of the internal cables.

So I texted my best friend and he phoned me back to say that this was a country wide problem and that I shouldn't worry. It is hoped that things would be back in order in less than a week. Trusting his advice completely I let it go at that; there was no need to become frantic. Que sera sera….

But it got me pondering about all the emails, work, reading and stuff that we do online and how much being in touch with the outside world has had an enormous impact on our lives. A similar technical problem occurred in the region at the beginning of this year anyway and turned out to be related to some 'force majeure' type of infrastructure accident; then things got back to normal.

I was optimistic that internet being so important for business and since Libya was increasingly business oriented then the people at LTT would find a quick way to reroute the connection even if temporarily. I was not expecting a prompt resolution as it was Friday and they probably were working with a skeleton staff on weekends.

At around midnight both Libyana and Madar customers received a text message in which the "General Authority for Telecom was informing us that there are problems in international communication and the WWW due to a number of severed submarine cables in the Mediterranean basin and that the workers in the telecom sector were doing their best to provide alternative solutions to restore communication". I was actually impressed when I received this message. To me it meant that the people at the Libyan PTT and LTT were really trying to find a solution. This also scored an additional point for customer service delivery; even though I did wish they had sent that country-wide cellphone message in English as well for the non- Arab community in Libya. I'm sure it would have prevented wild speculations among foreigners and jumping to conclusion that "life in the third world sucks sometimes" as Khadijateri puts it.

LTT do have a message to customers in English on their website (not sure when did they put it up ) though and their website was one of the few still accessible on Friday.

"Libya Telecom and Technology would like to inform its customers that the problems in the internet connection are a result of main communication cable problems, which has affected the entire Mediterranean region. Our Employees are giving their best efforts to return service through alternative networks."

It came as no surprise that internet connectivity was restored yesterday morning (i.e. in less than 24hrs) even though it was considerably slower. Today the connection is faster than dial-up but slower than our usual ADSL - which is to be expected due to congestion in traffic. I mean "major damage to the internet backbone can cause major problems despite redundancy which allows some re-routing. The loss of so much bandwidth is likely to have an impact".

Kudos to the Libya team for delivering on their promise (whatever way they managed to do it, via satellite or even if it meant making the necessary phone calls at least we are back online).

Tarek Siala has noted the same thing " ولكن الذي أعجبني وأثار إهتمامي هو قدرة شركة ليبيا للإتصالات والتقنية على إعادة الإنترنت في ثاني يوم (السبت) مباشرة، فبينما لازالت بقية الدول" تعاني من إنقطاع الإنترنت، كانت الإنترنت متوفرة في ليبيا،

This BBC article shed some additional light on the issue."We've lost three out of four lines. If the fourth cable breaks, we're looking at a total blackout in the Middle East". Then later in the day many specialised websites brought it up. Basically 4 lines are damaged; damage is usually due to ships' anchors and seismic activity. There are 3 lines damaged near Alexandria and one off Sicily. There was also suspected seismic activity around Malta.

Three out of four is a major problem, and as Libya is also linked through this cable that comes from Italy we have been affected. Moreover, newswebsites are not obliged to list ALL the countries that are affected, they mostly mention the ones that are more prominent on the business/political map. Case in point for example:"The UAE telecom operator said the damage to three cables resulted in high levels of network congestion and degradation of international voice service and data traffic, affecting all customers in the UAE, Levant, Egypt and parts of Africa." [Gulf News]. But the whole article is worth a read.

From the comment section of the BBC again I can see that this latest of cable cuts has affected the net in various countries as far away as Australia and the US and as near as Malta and the UK. I did not hear the Australians comparing themselves to a third world country.

The following article references a number of such cuts that occurred in several places worldwide. It also shows maps of the fiber optic submarine cable locations and which can potentially affect a country or group of countries or regions. Not one single sentence mentions a third world experience!

It is often said that communication is a powerful tool. I agree 100%, don't you ;)


Unknown said...

I take my hat off to you for this post.
a perfect reply :)
thank you.

Anonymous said...

100.000 houses in the USA are now without electricity because of snow - also a third world experience, hehe!!

Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that Libya is still a third world country and will be for a long time to come.

One thing that no one has pointed out is that if all it takes is a ship's anchor to sever the cables than how easy would it be to be cut by anyone wanting to create havoc in the world. pretty scary thought.

I didnt get any sms announcements from al-madar about the situtation, but then i never recieve anything from them ever. must be the settings of my phone - i wouldnt have been able to read the arabic anyway.

With all the excitement what do you think I did? I bought a new laptop - now we have 4 computers and two smartphones in my house. :)

Great post Highlander!

Maya M said...

I don't think Khadijateri is a foreigner in Libya - I consider her a naturalized Libyan.

Unknown said...

No internet connection sometimes is a blessing means extra time to read, spend time with family and etc.

Only UAE and Egypt were mentioned in the news as for Libya I did not read anything about it, which is not strange. Just google Libya in Google News, you find only about oil contracts as if it is North Korea or Albania in the past.

Chubby Checker - Let's Twist Again

Bill Haley - Rock Around The Clock (1956)

Highlander said...

Enlightened, Thanks :)

Burnia thanks mishaps, whether induced by natural disasters or bad customer service happen all over the world yep

Khadijateri thanks for the comment.

Libyan GPTC (i.e. telecom ministry) and the LTT have shown excellent customer service. Something we may have learned not to expect in this region that some people classify as the 'third world'. Our connectivity was back in record time in comparison with Egypt for example, and the business was not affected because it happened over the weekend.The post was about giving credit where it is due and not world economic classification of which many of us are aware of.

Many government departments in Libya and not only the private sector now use sms to inform us about something, which is why you may want to allow this on your mobile settings. You can always ask family members to help you decipher it and this way will have first hand access to information. On the other hand I hope that their next step towards further efficiency is English messages as we do have a large number of non-Arabic speaking residents in Libya, and you just proved my point that it would be extremely beneficial for them.

With regards to what can sever or damage the cables which btw is not restricted to the Mediterranean basin, but is more frequent here due to overcrowding of this popular sea :P I'm sure the company that designed or is maintaining these fiber optic cables will be looking in the near future at ways to prevent this. In the meantime, countries should always have a back up plan, just like Libya did :P

Enjoy the new laptop and Mabrouk, I'm sure the family appreciates having more connecting devices at their disposition.

Maya M, thanks yes though Khadijateri is an adopted Libyan, sometimes I think she is more Libyan than me LOL.

Music Lover thanks he he he, I hear you brother. I had a great Friday and a wonderful excuse not to work :)

a libyan lady said...

Highlander ,

Happy Holidays dear, first of all.

And I thank you for such a great post.
As for the net, well I never waste my time with anything that doesn’t work -third world or other...try to forfeit all that comes in handy at the required convenience at my disposal.

Time is precious and one only knows it when its sometimes too late, but I ‘ll look at it optimistically and hope for the best as in worst cases ,happens when you’ve gotten all your planning done.

Living in Libya never goes according to plan .

Even having a Plan B at your disposal is never enough ! You’d need to go through the whole alphabet and even then hope for the best !

Best Wishes for a Healthy ,Prosperous and Happy New Year !

Maya M said...

I once wrote a little about how, to my opinion, the world could look if Islamists win the current war (in a comment to your March 24, 2006 post). The current post tempts me to offer another glimpse related to technology (particularly computer technology) in that future world.
Scientific progress has come to a halt and technology, after some decline, has stabilized at a level roughly corresponding to mid-20th century. One of the first disasters in the war has been destruction of the Internet and loss of the data stored in it. It has been followed by destruction of most hardware. The computers produced today are low-class, useful only as advanced calculators and typewriters. They have large keyboards suited for Arabic, and their user interfaces and even programs are based on Arabic. In the rare occasions when Latin alphabet is still useful and allowed (for mathematicians, historians and some other experts), Latin fonts are added by additional applications. Computers are not connected in networks - not even local ones; nor do they use CDs. The only way to backup data and transfer them between computers is via floppy disks about 40 cm in diameter. This situation is a result not only of regression to an earlier stage of technology, but also of the desire of authorities to keep an eye on information flow: if a person is bringing out data, let everybody see this.
Of all hardware of old, CDs have survived most successfully. Of course they cannot be read now, but CDs with printed upper surface are collected by some people (like stamps), and all CDs are used by children as toys and by women as mirrors. The latter use is frowned at, because mirrors are generally considered haram.
Most of the ruling class and the general population do not regret the loss of the old infidel knowledge and so many technological achievements. The misery of their lives doesn't trouble these people much. Strong in their faith, they regard this ephemeral world as a mere prelude to Paradise and do not care how much they must struggle for bare necessities and how many of their babies will die. (After AIDS outbreaks due to contaminated vaccines have led to abandonment of all pediatric immunizations, childhood mortality has soared to three-digit levels.) Some, however, regard the past as a lost Golden Age; in fact, they idealize it and portray it as a world free of poverty, disease and disability, much like Tolkien's Valinor. The Lamenters, as these people are called, spend most of their energy trying to find and decode artifacts from the 20th and early 21st century. They are regarded by the state as enemies, and strong suspicion that somebody is a Lamenter is enough to make him disappear.
The main character, a young woman named Aisha, has many forbidden thoughts but manages to keep them secret. She herself feels the enchantment of the past and it has driven her professional path (while most women are prepared to be only housewives, she is studying history and geography to become a teacher). However, she is cautious to idealize the past world and thinks that its inability to survive is a crucial weakness enough to "compensate" all its achievements. She thinks that Lamenters are unwise people wasting their efforts in vain and subjecting themselves to absolutely pointless risk. However, in the present world they are the only people she can feel as soul-mates. When her parents present to her a prospective fiancee, she isn't much impressed by his handsomeness, intelligence, income and connections. What makes her accept him is the accidental finding that he is secretly stockpiling all sorts of CDs and trying to construct a CD-ROM.
(End of Part 2.)