An unexpected encounter with an old, childhood enemy whom I had not seen for a long time left me deep in thought the other day.

The good thing is, it was all good thoughts as I was left somewhat satisfied that he was in a worse off physical shape than me.

“He is looking tired and haggard ... all the debauchery has finally caught up with him,” I was happily telling myself when the incessant ringing of the mobile phone wiped the cunning smile from my face.

The conversation which took place thereafter was unsettling and irritating to say the least. It almost sent me searching for a blade to slash my wrists to end the misery which the woman caller was putting me through.

I spent almost 30 minutes trying to pass a series of “verification” questions to convince her that she was indeed speaking to me. The fact that I had forgotten the answers to some questions which I myself had set only prolonged my agony as further verification questions were posed.

Then, just as I thought that I had finally given all the right answers and the caller was convinced that she had indeed been speaking to the real me, the line got cut!

Minutes later, I spent a considerable amount of time answering the same questions before getting to the actual reason the caller from a high-speed broadband TV service provider wanted to speak to me about.

You see, the sweet voice on the other end of the line — who was the third caller from the same company — wanted to confirm if I really wanted to discontinue a movie package I had subscribed to.

I had done it without realising I could watch the same movies, and more, over another Internet television service which was being offered for free. What irked me was the hassle I had to endure to cancel something I did not want to subscribe to anymore.

It took me an endless time talking to at least three different callers before I managed to convince them that they were indeed speaking to the account holder and that I really, wanted to cancel the subscription to the movie package. Ironically, all it took was a simple “press OK” if you wanted to subscribe when I registered for the package.

Later, after managing to get the subscription cancelled, I was informed that charges for it would only be reflected in the “next billing cycle” even though I would no longer enjoy the package with immediate effect.

The point I’m trying to make here is that service providers, like the one I had to deal with, seem to be taking consumers for a ride.

Most, if not all, have lopsided agreements with consumers while offering substandard services. It has reached a stage where many consumers seem to be at the mercy of such service providers.

Now more have started taking up matters with the authorities or writing to the press about their complaints as they grow increasingly frustrated by the shoddy services provided.

It was recently highlighted that the Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia (CFM) received 6.11 per cent more telecommunications consumer complaints last year as compared with the previous year, with poor service topping the list.

According to CFM, the top five consumer complaints categories were poor service, billing and charging, poor coverage, short message service (SMS) and no coverage.

Poor service represented 42 per cent of total complaints received last year whereas 29 per cent were related to billing and charging issues.

CFM added that it recorded 989 complaints from consumers on service downtime, the highest ever registered by it.

Other complaints included problems related to Internet connectivity and how the consumer’s inability to use the service despite earlier complaints lodged with the service providers.

It is shocking that while consumer complaints seem to be on the rise over the years, there does not seem to be any solution in sight especially when it comes to ensuring compliance by the service providers.

It is about time the authorities started cracking the whip against errant service providers to protect the interests of long suffering consumers.

Sharanjit Singh is a veteran journalist who feels less talk and more action is needed to save planet Earth from mankind

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