Vodafone apologised to the people of Islay and promised to do better, when Alan Reid, MP for Argyll and Bute MP, chaired a Scottish Affairs Committee hearing into telecommunications in rural Scotland.
He interrogated Vodafone’s Paul Morris, Head of Government Affairs, and Colin Scott, Senior Regulatory Manager for Scotland, on their company’s failings on Islay.
The Vodafone signal on Islay has failed on several occasions recently with a long time to repair each time. Embarrassingly for Vodafone it had also failed on the day of the hearing.
"You can see why your customers on Islay are feeling upset," Mr Reid said after being told that Vodafone had two engineers at work on Islay solving the problem.
"Vodafone admitted at the hearing that it has 'had a run of issues on Islay' and that it is monitoring the island closely but it took 18 days to repair a fault during last summer, let alone 18 days and then another 14 days during the winter storms," said Mr Reid after the hearing.
"The mobile phone company says the new 4G equipment it is investing in is "more robust" and includes heating to keep ice at bay but its commitment to 4G appears to be waiting for BT Open Reach installing new internet links before it invests. They are promising jam tomorrow but not jam today. People want to be able to make telephone calls now. Customers without service for three days can apply to the mobile phone company for compensation”, Mr Reid added.
Colin Scott said the winter storms caused 200 sites to fail, a huge engineering challenge: “One of the big difficulties was actually getting to the cell sites. They are often on top of hills and way off the roads. They are not even accessible by 4x4s. They (engineers) have to walk miles with their equipment and kit. Then they might find they are unable to climb the mast because it is covered in ice. On Mull the engineers did not change their clothes for three days while they were trying to fix one site. It was a core site that was central to other cell sites in the area.”
Paul Morris: “We know that we have not delivered the service we would want to deliver. We are watching this site (Islay) all the time. We will repair that site if there are issues. We are hoping that frankly this repair means it will not go wrong again.”
He added: “We have had a bad run, but up to this point it has run OK over the years. Hopefully we will continue to run a good service off the island for the period of time until we replace the equipment.”
Mr Reid told the press afterwards: “Vodafone says it is in transition to 4G, and asks us to judge them at the end of the investment cycle. People on Islay, and across all the Argyll islands, and indeed the Argyll mainland, need a reliable, weather-resilient mobile phone service until then, and that is how they will judge the company. It is essential that BT also plays its part and delivers the superfast broadband needed to help the transition to 4G happen.”
After three days without a service, Vodafone customers on monthly contracts can claim compensation for the days the service is down; compensation is handled on a person-by-person basis and the individual customer should apply by phone or online.
During the committee hearing Mr Reid asked the Vodafone representatives: “What is your message to your customers on Islay?”
Paul Morris: “First, we realise it has been difficult. We apologise for that. We are doing all we can to keep the service to the standard that they expected before the last few months, when it has not been where we would like it to be. We will be investing significant sums. We are investing over £1 billion across the UK this year alone to improve the service and bring them the latest technologies, including mobile internet.”