BTL "free" voice mail fuels fire

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 11            March 21, 2002

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Once again the "Value of Voice" will become more expensive to consumers as Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) implements a new innovative way of increasing their revenues-"free" voice mail service. A standard feature of all "pre-paid" cellular phone packages, this service automatically activates and is supposed to record a messages after a certain amount of rings. Now, whether the caller is able to leave a message or not is a completely different matter, but it is still considered a completed call if the voice mail answers, leaving the caller billed for the call.

    This was the "message" received by the San Pedro Sun this week when investigating phone charges billed to a certain hotel guest. After calling a cellular phone number for a local taxi service, the guest received a "voice messaging service." She hung up but still received a charge on her hotel bill for it. Most people understand that if you call someone with an answering machine and you let it ring until the machine picks up, you are charged for a completed call. But who expects a taxi driver to use an answering machine for their business let alone have one in their vehicle?

    What the general population does not realize is the number of people who are now given this service "free" and do not realize that the people calling them are being charged. If the owner of the phone does not program the messaging service to record their messages, the person making the phone call not only pays for the call-they cannot leave a recorded message either.

    Speaking with representatives of BTL's Public Relations Office it was learned that voice mail is standard with all pre-paid cellular phone packages. Customer Service personnel are to explain the system to the customer and additionally give them a pamphlet when they activate their phones. The voice mail system is not a feature of the phone itself; it is programmed into the phone line and is free of charge.

    Another surprise is that, as of this May, to coincide with the new seven-digit numbering system, BTL will activate voice mail as a standard feature on all regular phone lines. The consumer does have the right to deny this service but must specify their wishes or it will automatically become part of their phone "service". BTL Public Relations personnel assured this newspaper that a full public awareness campaign regarding "free" voice mail is forthcoming.

   It was also learned that the number of rings required before voice mail answers varies from phone to phone. Like regular home answering machines, you can preset the number of rings before the machine automatically takes over. Some phones are programmed for four and some for six. Essentially, as it stands currently, if a caller wants to avoid voice mail (and the charge for a phone call) on a pre-paid cellular phone line, or to any service with automatic messaging, the solution is to hang up after three rings.

    Anyone wishing more information on this "service" may call BTL Customer Service at 02-77085.
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