Storie di ordinaria follia per chi usa il cellulare in Brasile . Naturalmente il problema è molto più sentito nelle grandi metropoli .
Asking around I discovered that many of my Brazilian friends who were with the same network, TIM, were having the same problems. One had gone into a shop to complain.
Since I could not wait that long—and was paying through the nose—I decided to move the three numbers I use (mine, an assistant’s and one for visiting colleagues) to Vivo, the company that was generally agreed to be the most reliable (though even more expensive than TIM). That was the start of what I have come to think of as my Brazilian Telecoms Saga. It is still not over. I also have Brazilian Visa and Household-Shipment sagas, but it is my miserable tale of repeated visits to phone shops, hours on hold waiting to talk to call centres and mystery bills that I think best illustrates what is blandly called the custo Brasil, or “Brazil cost”. This is the combination of high cost, low quality and sheer annoyingness that makes doing business in this country such a soul-destroying chore.
The story is too long to tell in its entirety and too painful to tell chronologically. So here are some highlights. I estimate I’ve received at least 20 “protocolos” (case numbers) since I first tried to switch phone company. I don’t know why: the next time one calls it is never any use. My assistant and I have spent a total of around 15 hours in TIM shops. E-mails stopped arriving to my hand-held device for almost a month. Since the numbers were moved to Vivo I have received a half-dozen more bills from TIM. After the most recent I threatened to take legal action. The woman in the company’s call centre—who by this time in the conversation had started shouting—replied: “You can do what you like.”
All but the most recent bill I ended up paying, each time under the erroneous assumption that it would be the last. Some the company said related to calls made while abroad: apparently Brazilian phone companies have the right to bill for these up to six months after they were made. (I have already resolved not to use my phone for roaming during my final six months in Brazil: I can’t face trying to deal with this after I am back in London.)
Some related to one of my numbers which had somehow remained in phantom form on TIM’s records after it had in reality been moved to Vivo. For three months both companies billed me for that line; each said it was active on their network and the double-billing was the other firm’s problem to resolve. That only ended when I cancelled the line outright with TIM, taking the risk of losing the number entirely. (It kept working, which shows which firm was in the wrong.)
In late March, five months after I thought I had finally freed myself from TIM’s coils, into my postbox popped another bill for that same number. My assistant called and (after several hours on hold and being cut off several times) was told that the line was still active, that it had never been cancelled, that TIM had never stopped billing me for that number and I had never stopped paying it. After an entire morning on the phone the company grudgingly agreed to open an internal investigation, which it said would take five days. Five days later we rang and (after the usual long delays and interrupted calls) were told I owe them nothing−which I’ve heard before, so let’s wait and see. There was no explanation for the recent bill or their insistence that I had never cancelled the line, let alone an apology.
Such a story may seem shocking to foreigners. To Brazilians, it is sadly familiar. Mobile telephony in Brazil is extremely expensive and reliability is rock-bottom.
So far the main result appears to be that Anatel is being besieged by furious customers unable to get satisfaction from the firms themselves. The regulator says it is going to start charging Brazil’s telecoms companies enough to cover the cost of a running a big customer-complaints call-centre of its own.
Update: April 17th.
A few hours after the blogpost above went live I received a call from TIM’s press office. Over the following days the company’s internal complaints mechanism kicked into action and I have now been promised that my problems have been resolved. Apparently one more phantom bill is in the works and unstoppable – but they have promised that I do not have to pay it and that they will call again around its due date to repeat this assurance. I have also been promised a refund of the “phantom charges” that I already paid.