Posted by: Chris | 25/08/2009

The Woes of Internet Access in Rural Mallorca

The first two weeks of August my family and I spent our vacation in a great Finca in Mallorca, Spain. We had wanted a vacation without hassle. Sleep late (one day my daughter managed to get up only at 13:30), enjoy the nice weather, food and just plainly relax and get away from my otherwise busy schedule.

Finca near Arta

Finca near Arta

Pool

Pool

As you can see in these pictures, it was a great place that held what it promised.

While everybody told me, I should for once not respond to e-mails and not do conference calls, this is something that seems to be almost unavoidable. We come to expect to be connected all the time and no longer talk about work life balance but work life integration.

So I decided to take the middle ground:  read my e-mails once in a while, respond to the important ones and skip all but one conference call in the two weeks we were there. Reading the e-mails had another advantage,  I did not need to spend the first few days after  my return just working off the backlog.

The Finca is located in the middle of nowhere: electricity yes, but no phone line and no broadband. So before going, I researched the Internet for what other people did in this situation in Spain. During my vacation last year in Germany, I had used my regular Swiss cell phone SIM and ran up an astronomic bill and wanted to avoid that this year. Data roaming in Europe is a bonanza for the cell phone companies. I found that various operators in Spain offer flat rate mobile (GPRS, 3G) Internet access via pre-paid SIM cards.

The second day there, I went to buy one where the plan appeared to be attractive. A large phone company that does business around Europe, offered a SIM card where for 29 Euros you get flat rate Internet access for 15 days. You buy the card, which you can use for phone service as well, send an SMS to a service number and subscribe to the plan. At least that’s how it was described.

I subscribed and connected,  all worked well. However after some time, I noticed that the balance on the card kept shrinking. They were still charging me per MB of traffic. So I called their help desk who eventually credited my card with what had been used up until then and told me they had fixed the problem. Unfortunately, it turned out that wasn’t the case. They kept charging me per MB. So I called again and they opened another trouble ticket. When I called the next day to inquire whether it now had been resolved, I was told that they wouldn’t start working on it until three days later. And in deed, three days later, I received an SMS that they had started to work on my problem and that I would hear when it was resolved. A few days later, I received a call (in Spanish, so much for customer relationship managment) where a computer asked me about my customer experience with their help desk – however until our last day in Mallorca, the problem had not been resolved. I must say, I was a little disappointed in this kind of service, I thought I was dealing with a large international company that – while being somewhat more expensive – would live up to its brand promise.

Realizing after my third help desk call that my problem would likely not be solved in any reasonable time, I went and bought a prepaid SIM card from a smaller provider that offered flat rate access for three Euros per day. That worked flawlessly and, where I was, I even had HSDPA access.

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