When comms fail and people die, who is to blame?

Written by on April 8, 2015 in BillingViews, Opinion with 1 Comment

PrintThis tragic story of an elderly lady dying partly because her phone was disconnected will make you react in one of several ways. If you do not like Vodafone, then you will blame them for a lack of care. The same, though, could be said of the family. You might just feel sad. Whatever your reaction to an old lady dying because she was unable to use her phone which was disconnected through lack of use, there are lessons to be learned.

The Vodafone spokesman says that they are “asked by Ofcom to recycle numbers where we can so our policy is that if a phone hasn’t been used for 90 days, we can assume it has been discarded.”

That assumption is flawed. There are plenty of elderly people who have mobile phones but do not use them for months, or at all. Many do not understand them, nor understand the need for them. And this does not mean that they will not need them one day. To the elderly, a mobile phone is often given to them by worried children and ‘sold’ as a ‘panic button.’

The Vodafone spokesman also says that phones “can still be used to dial emergency numbers even if there is no credit on the phone.” This is a valid point, certainly, but when you fall down stairs, for instance, and you are elderly, you suddenly feel very alone. Your instinct is not to dial the emergency number, but to dial your closest family member, who has probably taught you to click two buttons and you are connected to them.

It is, of course, true that phones need to be recycled and number management is an important issue. But the elderly should be ‘an exception’ to this rule that sits somewhere in the number management system.

For this type of situation there should be a rule that says ‘check age of customer before putting into quarantine after 90 days,’ or ‘check expected usage frequency when topping up.’ There are ways of avoiding these horror stories.

In a wider context, it is an illustration of why common sense must be engaged before big data, analytics, policy management and the rest of the heady cocktail of technology is thrown at the problem. Simply throwing customers into a bucket which assumes that a phone is not in use after a certain period is too broad a bracket.

In an even wider context, it is a reflection of what Tony Poulos has been saying for years, that “if telecoms companies start getting into healthcare, monitoring and the critical elements of the coming digital life, then who is to blame if the communications fail and someone dies?”

It is a good point, and one that needs to be addressed – before services are offered. Even though, in this case, Vodafone was not offering a lifeline, simply a phone, it makes you think.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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  1. Eric Priezkalns says:

    You’re right that these matters should be addressed before services are offered. But it is already too late for that. For example Telefonica has already facilitated a service that remotely monitors the rehabilitation of post-op patients in their own homes.

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