The February 22 earthquake showed the value of mobile telecommunications in a natural disaster. The Vodafone mobile network remained functional throughout the earthquake event. Some individual sites failed instantly due to power loss and destroyed equipment. Widespread power outages meant many other sites were reliant on temporary battery power backup in the immediate aftermath.
Battery backup power is designed for routine power outages to hold the sites over for a number of hours until mains power is restored. It is not designed to cover long-term power outages. At the peak of this crisis 55 sites were down. Within 48 hours this number was reduced to 14, predominantly due to the rollout of generators to sites without power. Christchurch-based Vodafone employees deployed over 60 generators and worked around the clock to ensure they remained fuelled to keep the network running. We also deployed temporary sites in the form of Cellsites on Wheels (COWs), which were located to provide additional network capacity at key sites in the city, including the Civil Defence coordination centre.
Within 48 hours of the earthquake the Vodafone mobile retail truck, dubbed 'Optimus Prime', arrived in Christchurch. The mobile store provided free WiFi, ten free calling phones and provided free car chargers to people without power. Senior executive Russell Hewitt has been appointed to lead the Christchurch business recovery efforts. We are aware this is a long-term recovery. Russell will be working with Christchurch civil authorities to understand Christchurch's recovery needs, and align Vodafone's own business recovery plan.
Having checked on the welfare of our employees our next priority was to ensure the continued operation of the network. Following the disaster we introduced a number of initiatives to support Vodafone customers impacted by the earthquake:
In 2007 some of Vodafone's call centre operations were outsourced to an Egypt-based contact centre. Early in 2011 political unrest in the country affected our contact centre there. A curfew meant call centre employees were unable to travel to and from work.
Under the guidance of our Crisis Management Team and Emergency Management Team disaster recovery plans were put in motion. We called upon New Zealand-based Vodafone employees to volunteer to man the lines, to ensure we could continue to respond to incoming customer contact.
The volunteer drive saw a significant response, with more than 230 volunteers and 58 temporary staff taken on. Service employees rallied to provide training sessions for volunteers without contact centre experience.
In March 2011 Vodafone announced the creation of 125 local jobs by consolidating all of its contact centre operations in New Zealand. In May 2011 the operations undertaken by the offshore call centre in Egypt shifted back to New Zealand. Vodafone's other three contact centres are all New Zealand based.
The Telecommunications Disputes Resolution (TDR) service is a free and independent service available to consumers to resolve complaints with their telecommunications provider. Customers can escalate complaints to the TDR if they feel their complaint has not been handled appropriately, or if they have not received a response within six weeks. A TDR resolution can award compensation up to $12,000.
This is an industry-wide scheme created by the Telecommunications Carriers' Forum (TCF). At present the scheme has ten members who fund the TDR, including Vodafone and the other main telecommunications companies.
TXT bullying is a serious issue. Vodafone have approached this on an industry-wide basis. We work with NetSafe, the Police and other mobile operators to maintain a standard approach to individual complaints across all organisations, and an agreed process for handing over complaints when the message originated on a different mobile network.
In November 2010 Vodafone launched the first TXT Blacklist service in New Zealand. The free Blacklist service has given our customers the choice to self-manage unwanted contact by TXT message. When a customer Blacklists a number it prevents any further TXTs or picture messages (PXTs) coming through from that number to their phone. This includes TXT/PXTs from any other network.
Since the introduction of Blacklist we have observed a 40% reduction in the number of customers escalating complaints about unwelcome contact. As of 31 March 2011, 10,595 people had activated Blacklisting on their account, indicating that this was a problem many people were just putting up with, or too scared to tackle, prior to the introduction of the service.
The gross figures* for last year show a slight reduction in the overall number of complaints. Had we not introduced Blacklist we project the total number of complaints received would have exceeded 7,500, a significant increase on last year.
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* The 2011 figures include extrapolated figures for November 2010.
In 2009 Vodafone announced a partnership with Parents Inc. Parents Inc is a charitable organisation whose vision is to positively impact every family. They aim to achieve this by equipping parents and children with the best-quality skills and resources.
Their partnership with Vodafone is focused on educating parents and young people get the best from technology. This includes the development of an online education space and seminars for parents and using TXT messaging to help encourage parents and provide information. A school module as part of Parent Inc's Attitude programme has also been rolled out to high schools, providing students with advice. Parents Inc did 105 of these presentations over the past year.
With the convergence of mobile and internet technology, the range of content available over the internet is now easily accessible through a mobile phone. This includes the full range of content format, including audio and video files. Third-party content providers are able to sell their services to our customers using Vodafone's network. Direct payment for these services is taken from the customer's Vodafone account.
Some of these services include content unsuitable for younger customers. In order to protect young people from adult-only content we introduced the ContentGuard filter. ContentGuard must be deactivated via an age-verification process before any restricted content may be accessed. It was Vodafone's policy that no adult content was sold via the Vodafone Live! service prior to the introduction of the content filter.
A complementary content filter which will cover content across the mobile internet, covering all websites, is also planned. This filter will be activated on request, and can only be deactivated by following an age-verification process. The launch of this filter was planned for some years, but has been delayed due to compatibility issues with our network.
In our fixed-line business we have agreed to participate in the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) illegal content filtering scheme. The filter works on a blacklist principle, blocking any sites which have been identified as hosting illegal content.
As a responsible business we support legislation to promote safe driving. Using a mobile while driving is a significant distraction and increases the risk of accident and injury. In 2008 we strengthened our public position on mobiles and driving safety, and called for a law change banning the use of handheld mobiles while driving. This call was covered across national media, and was influential in the previous Government's announcement of their intention to consider a ban.
The ban on the use of handheld mobile phones while driving came into force on 1 November 2009. Vodafone publicly supported the ban, and implemented a communication plan to educate our customers. The primary communication was a TXT message to all customers, advising them of the law change, encouraging them to do the right thing by turning their phone off or pulling over to use it, and providing a link to more information.
We now believe that awareness of the ban, and of the dangers of using a mobile while driving, are well understood by our customers. However, it is apparent that many people are still continuing the behaviour. Our approach has now shifted from raising awareness of the dangers, to exploring options to encourage behavioural change among drivers. We have a number of initiatives planned for the year ahead in partnership with road safety organisations.