BTC Blues

I always had a feeling that the universe didn't like it when my husband and I were apart. There was a time several years back when I was on Norman's Cay and he was working on a private island. Both islands were in the Exuma island chain and only about 20 miles apart as the crow flies, but we might as well been in different countries.

The internet on both islands was so bad that we weren't able to talk on Skype and the cell phone service constantly dropped our calls. And when I say dropped calls, I mean like every 15 seconds. So we'd just end up getting mad every time we tried to talk, which is never good for a distance relationship. Thankfully I eventually ended up getting a job and joining him on the private island. To this day I wonder if we would even still be together if I hadn't gotten a job there. The phone company could have been the reason for the eventual demise of our relationship.

One thing about living in the islands is that cell service is spotty at the best of times. And oftentimes it doesn't matter if you are in one of the most remote areas or if you are in downtown Nassau. Because of this, you will find many residents still have the more reliable house phones with a good old fashioned message machine.

We have one phone company in the country. As you can imagine, without any competitors, Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation can do whatever they feel like, charge what they like, and you can take it or leave it. The US has Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and a number of other smaller carriers that compete for your business. Your bill is broken down each month so you know exactly where the charges come from and if you have a problem, you can speak with a helpful customer service agent who might be able to reverse the charges if it was your first offense.

I received a bill one month that was close to $250, which was about $150 higher than normal so I went into the local BTC building on Harbour Island to figure out what the charges were all about. My bill was broken down fairly simply and stated that $175 of it were roaming charges and the rest were obscure stamp taxes, rental charges (I'm still not sure what I'm renting) and my data plan. The bill, however, did not specify call duration, phone numbers or any other information that may be helpful in solving the issue for myself. I was able to deduct that I had gone to Miami at some point during the billing cycle and made some phone calls to my husband who was still in the Bahamas, but I wanted a little more information before I forked over my hard earned cash.

It's fairly standard for Bahamians to travel to the US several times a year. When you land in Miami you get a friendly text message that says that AT&T is the preferred carrier for BTC customers and whenever I use AT&T, the international fees are fairly low and consistent. However this bill was way more than what I was expecting, especially since I was only in Miami for 3 days. When I asked the customer service representative about roaming rates she studied my bill and shook her head, looking as baffled as me. She went on to tell me a story that when she went to Atlanta earlier in the year she ended up with a $600 bill and that BTC couldn't tell her what the charges were for so she just paid it. She gave me this look like she had succumbed to the reality of the charges and that I should heed her advice and do the same. Hmm.....very helpful indeed. There are some moments in life where you want sympathy and to share mutual stories of grief. This is not one of them. She took down my name and phone number and promised to get to the bottom of it and get back to me. I have yet to hear from her.

I went on to call the customer service number, use an online chat and eventually sent an email to management in order to get to the root of my charges. After all of that messing around, the bottom line was....that's the charges, take it or leave it. I've since taken matters into my own hands; I turn my phone off and leave it in the bottom of my purse when I travel. Simple.

BTC - #1 carrier in dropped calls, out of network areas and mysterious roaming charges. Sometimes I think that we might be better off with sawed off coconut shells and an intricate network of strings connecting the entire country.