IT travails in Spain

June 29, 2012

Is this a light I see at the end of the tunnel, or is it just another ‘IT’ train coming my way?

A good question in terms of my earlier column, in which I covered some of my travails with the online connectivity problems I have experienced in Spain.

I am happy to report there was some relief,

albeit temporary, when Vodafone suddenly supplied an online ‘top up’ option for ‘pay as you go’ dongle users...great excitement in the Cockayne household as you can imagine!

The online payment option was very convenient, although I still could not confirm what amount of data I had actually used.

This meant that I still had to actually run out of data completely and lose connectivity before I actually knew when all the data had been consumed.

Even when the data has run out, you don’t actually know at first as it could be the network just having another ‘bad day’ with its signal strength. No message is received saying that ‘you have now run out of data’ and there is no warning function or flashing red light.

Instead of putting up an error message saying ‘you are out of data, please recharge’ or better still, ‘you are about to run out of data, please recharge soon,’ the dongle’s functions remain unchanged, it stays ‘active’ and shows that it has a signal (if you are lucky enough to be an area with one) and the option to click to connect stays open but it just won’t function, the only confirmation for which is repeated failed attempts to connect!

So for a few weeks at least, the online payment option worked like a charm, and having run out of data, I didn’t have to drive into Puerto Banus to pay for a recharge, but just put in my credit card details online, waited for a few moments and was quickly back into cyberspace.

Then – wouldn’t you know it – the fairy tale fell apart! I ran out of data and went online as usual to load up, but was confronted by a new looking menu. I wasn’t overly concerned, as we now live in a society where the mantra has become ‘if it’s working perfectly, let’s try to change it,’ and I hoped that the changes were merely cosmetic. In this respect I was about to be severely disappointed.

Apart from the previous fields, which I recognised, although they were presented in a slightly different format, a new one had appeared. This new section required the input of ‘my’ NIE number in a compulsory field, in order for me to be allowed to proceed to recharge.

The NIE number is contained in a document which is produced by Spain and which an EU visitor is required to obtain if they intend to stay permanently in the country. Incidentally this document / requirement along with a number of other ‘Spanish’ initiatives and requirements are completely contrary to EU regulations.

Now my status in Spain is that I am a temporary resident and I don’t have, or want an NIE number as, apart from the fact that it is an arbitrary Spanish ‘legal’ requirement, the queues and inefficiency in the process to get one are legendary.

I don’t know how the brain of the person who thought up this staggering NIE option works, but I am fairly confident that, if prompted, the average ten year old would be likely to ask of the requirement, ‘why would a pay as you go service, which is designed to be used by short or medium stay holiday type customers who want to be online and secure (ie you can’t use free hotel or cafe WiFi services for online banking for example), work if the same holiday traveller has to apply for and take out a permanent residence number with the local municipality?”

It is well known and sad fact that 70 per cent of the Spanish workforce is employed by the government, the local and regional councils, or other parastatal structures, but even in this mad mad bureaucracy, this is a bridge too far!

So...back once again into Puerto Banus for my Internet recharges.

There is a slight ‘up note’ on the service in that it is now possible to check consumption online.

Before you start to quiver with excitement, you should know that you are required to register online (they don’t require an NIE number for this...yet!), and the service will only show your daily consumption. What this means is that in order to work out where you are in consumption terms you have to note down the daily figures shown individually and then add these together for a ‘current’ consumption total.

The design team behind this cutting edge service have obviously not yet worked out how to show a running total or aggregate the consumption, even though this service is available with other country’s networks. This, of course, must also be the same team which designed the SMS balance request for data, from which the only response you will ever get is ‘su peticion es anotada’. Loosely translated this phrase basically means that your question has been noted.

Between you and I, however, what I think it really means is, ‘go away and stop bothering us as we are not interested, or capable, in supplying you as a customer with any service information related to the service you have paid to use.’

I have a sneaking suspicion that this must be the same team which thought that an ashtray on a motorcycle would be a good idea...and we wonder why the EU is in trouble!

If these are the processes, customer service levels and design capabilities from one of the EU’s most successful companies, the future for this region in any commercial sense looks very gloomy indeed!

John Cockayne is a former resident of Muscat who now lives in Spain