The resulting survey and report completed in Nov 2012 is in Maher’s words, “pure gold!”
A land lease issue and some service niggles received immediate attention, whilst others are being worked on or have been addressed via new price plans and service developments.
Telecom’s first outer islands survey was carried out door to door and covered over half of Mauke’s households.
The full range of services were covered including landlines, mobile, internet, postal, and money exchange (Western Union).
On March 20, Maher along with Telecom manager of sales and marketing Damien Beddoes, chief technology officer Robert McFadzien and manager for retail sales and support Laihana Kiely met with the community in Mauke to present the report, explain initiatives, listen and say thanks with a kai manga (meal).
The turnout was excellent and the relaxed atmosphere made for lively discussions.
People were empowered to speak freely. As Maher said, “Tell us your problems. There may be a simple answer or simple fix – we just have to know about it.”
The Telecom crew answered honestly, Kiely and McFadzien on the ready to handle various issues.
The community learned that 719 calls saying you have won money are computer-generated spam and to not reply.
Unwanted late night calls can be blocked if you tell Telecom the date and time the call occurred.
A request to pay customs on mail at Telecom rather than the bank is out of Telecom’s hands. Presently it can take days to get a parcel due to limited bank open hours and mail arriving Friday afternoons.
As well as the worry of parcels sitting, the extra fuel wasted having to go to Telecom twice and the bank once is an issue recognised by Telecom.
Some other issues raised in the report were short warranties, e-waste, mail security and deliveries.
Requests were made for mass emergency texts, and mobiles for outer islands doctors so that they can be contacted quickly.
McFadzien brought the new O3B initiative ‘down to earth’ with laughs and an informative video.
He also noted requests for better mobile service.
Fishermen, in particular, would feel more secure knowing they can make contact from anywhere. He pointed out that mobiles are not a safety device.
“If you fall in the water with mobile in pocket or forget to top up, you’re in trouble. Get a radio!”
Beddoes presented plans that deliver value for money. He explained Maher set sales and marketing some tough targets –to lower prices as quickly as possible and as much as possible over landline services, mobile and internet.
“We still have a way to go but we are working hard to make services more affordable and more valuable for all customers.”
In the outer islands staff have to be multi skilled.
Mauke is fortunate to be served by Dennis Tararo, a general technician trained in Rarotonga, and Marcellino Akamoeau who accepted lower pay to live in Mauke. He qualified in electrotechnology and telecommunications at Auckland Unitech and is trained to work with satellites, solar power, switching, cabling, internet and first level IT support.
Both men are required from time to time to work on other islands including Rarotonga.
Last week the boys installed a number of hotspots in Mauke’s populated areas. This serves visitors and locals alike as those with a laptop, smart phone or other such device holding an ‘Oyster’ account can just log in whilst others can purchase prepaid cards and access the Telecom internet Wifi hotspots without fear of running up an unexpected debt.
These hotspots are also expected to benefit reporters and news buffs attending the Manea Games in October 2014 as they are handy to the sporting venues.
When asked about possible competition, Maher said the politicians need to decide on the appropriate model that will deliver the best outcomes for the country.
He thought the current model (where TCI is required to deliver universal telecommunications service to the whole nation) seems to have worked well over the last 15 years.
The Cook Islands consistently rates at or near the top of Pacific countries for all the telecommunications measures of success, despite the small population and far-flung islands. Telecom reinvests in new technology for the customers’ benefit, it pays healthy dividends to government and its staff is 97 per cent local.
It has a very good reputation in the Pacific for the quality of its networks and the expertise of its staff.
“My message to staff is to focus on our customers - make our services as good as possible and as cheap as possible. If we get that right, then we will never need to worry about potential competition. Mauke’s report reiterated just how much people rely on our services. We take our responsibility seriously.”