The hypocrisy of TM Net

What a lovely scene this is — on Monday, March 13, Streamyx informs us:

To ensure uninterrupted service, it is always best to pay your tmnet streamyx bill on time as failure to do so could result in the suspension of your tmnet streamyx service. We also urge you to pay your Telekom Malaysia fixed line bill (used for the tmnet streamyx connection) on time to avoid service interruptions.

via TM Net Newsroom.
Then on Wednesday, April 5, Streamyx informs us:

TM Net Sdn Bhd would like to inform its customers that it is currently performing technical trials on its network system as part of the Company’s efforts to continuously upgrade its products and services. Regretfully, the trial exercise may have resulted in some customers experiencing some slowness in downloading and/or surfing the Internet. We are fully aware of this and we would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused. Rest assured we have taken all the necessary steps to expedite the completion of the trial exercise.

via TM Net Newsroom.
They want us to pay our bills on time (warning us that they will “interrupt” our service if we don’t pay), but they provide sub-standard service, and release a press release about the current connectivity problems weeks after the problem started appearing. Does this strike anyone else but me as being terribly hypocritical?
Where is the justice? Why can’t the consumers “interrupt” our payment to TM Net for poor service?
The clause that protects TM Net lies in the contract we all signed when we applied for the service: connectivity is based on a “best effort” basis. But there is obviously something terribly wrong with the spirit of the law in this case.
If you sign up for a service which claims “best effort” delivery, it goes to assume that you accept the “risks” of the service (such as unscheduled “technical trials”). However, given that the industry of broadband access in Malaysia is a virtual monopoly, it is very poor form on the part of TM Net to be able to provide the sort of service it provides now and claim it to be its “best effort”.
Natural monopolies are not necessarily a bad thing; it makes sense for certain industries to be monopolies in order to ensure cost efficiencies — TNB invests a huge amount of resources into the laying of power cables, it makes no sense for another company to lay competing cables just for the sake of competition. The same can be said about TM Net and Telekom: the high cost of laying competing copper by another company makes absolutely no business sense, considering the relatively low broadband penetration rates in Malaysia.
But the consumer should receive protection from natural monopolies, just as we receive protection against any form for monopoly. If TM Net advertises 1MB/s connectivity for RM88 a month, it shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind the shield of “best effort” and provide 5kb/s connectivity for 2 weeks or more without penalty; the difference between advertised performance and actual performance is just too large. If there are going to be forseeable or even potential service interruptions, the law shouldn’t let TM Net get away with informing its customers more than 2 weeks after the fact.
I just can’t help but speculate what TM Net is doing during these technical trials that are affecting its network; perhaps they are laying in place “speed bumps” to discourage P2P traffic (which, if true and not publicly disclosed, is arguably a gross violation of its terms of service with its customers). Whatever TM Net is doing, the fact they are performing trials on a live network, affecting paying customers on a daily basis for at least the last 2 weeks, is a very unfortunate decision. You would have thought a truly world-class company would have the ingenuity to perform testing on a test network first, and be assured of its success before migrating such trials to their live network. At the very least, it would have made far more sense to localize their trials if indeed they did require a live network to perform their testing.
Its become a popular pastime for Streamyx users to bash the service that we use only because alternative services are just too limited or too expensive. There seemed to be some hope when the new CEO came into office and spent some time engaging local Malaysian bloggers in dialogue. But since then, and up to the current troubles now, TM Net has yet to let action speak louder than words. If they had any business honour, or if this wasn’t the virtual monopoly that it is, TM Net would offer all its Streamyx customers a 15-day rebate (or however long the current issue persists); this would serve to keep everyone happy, and also indicate that they are willing to own up to the lost of service to its customers during this down period.
This blog post has been forwarded to Mr Michael Lai, CEO, TM Net, the Editor of The Star, NST and Malaysiakini.

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