A Nation Steps Up to Rescue Yes

A nation stepped up to help Yes solve the satellite television signal disruptions that have been plaguing its service for more than a month, and it worked.

A nation stepped up to help Yes solve the satellite television signal disruptions that have been plaguing its service for more than a month, and it worked. The source of the trouble has been found, but that doesn't mean Yes can do anything about it immediately.

After much pleading by Yes, the top brass of government and military stepped up to bat for the beleaguered company. On Monday night Yes began working with the Israeli army and navy to locate the source of the signal disruptions. It turned out to be none other than two Dutch ships operated by UNIFIL, using army radar that disrupted the Yes satellite signal. One of the ships was sailing off the Lebanese shore, by the city of Tyre.

Further investigation taught that the radar equipment in question belongs to the armies of Germany and Holland. The same gear was being used by a second ship.

"Last night two sources of disturbance were located, one northern and one southern," a source involved in resolving the Yes crisis stated last night. "They were finally identified as UNIFIL ships using army radar. "

The Communications Ministry did its part too, demanding on Yes' behalf (and Yes has demanded too) that the Foreign Ministry pursue diplomatic methods of halting the disruption. Yes' shareholders, led by the Bezeq telecommunications company, personally contacted two of Israel's topmost ministers - Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - demanding they intervene and ensure that the UNIFIL ships stop the signals that are impairing the quality of Yes' broadcasts.

Some days before the identification of the culprits, suspicion had fallen on German ships in the area. A conversation with a German attache did stop the disruptions for three days. But they then began again, and Germany explained that this time, it wasn't the cause of trouble with Yes' civilian frequencies.

The director general of the Defense Ministry, Pinchas Buchris, personally enlisted to help Yes locate the source of its ills. Until recently Buchris served on the board of directors at Bezeq, which is Yes' parent company, as a representative of the Apax investment group. He had also participated in the negotiation with Bezeq workers ahead of the company's privatization. Among other things, Buchris - a former career officer - served as representative in Israel for Poju Zabludowicz, a British billionaire.

By the way, security elements thought the plethora of theories about the source of the trouble (including Russian radar, some postulated) was hilarious. The source could have been located within a matter of minutes using the Israeli army's advanced technology, they say, it's just that the army had refused to help. Until Monday, that is.

For the sake of clarity, Israel has just two providers of multichannel television service: Yes, by satellite, and the HOT cable TV company, which was forged by the merger of three firms - Matav, Tevel and Golden Channels. Bezeq owns the controlling interest in Yes and HOT is publicly traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Customers had by and large been empathetic and patient as the crisis unfolded, understanding that the problems were not of the company's doing or under its control. However, even though the disruptions were discontinuous, in some cases they lasted hours and even the most tolerant viewers began to grow angry. The worst-affected areas were in northern Israel, but in fact the disruptions affected the whole country. The loss of patience was evident in the exploding number of calls to Yes, which had to recruit fresh staff to handle the overload.

For all its recruitment efforts, consumers complain that when they call the company these days, they sometimes get a recording but no human operator. A recording does direct the caller to "press 1" for an operator, but if the caller does, he gets another recording that the call couldn't be completed, as TheMarker discovered. "I have to say there's nothing more frustrating than the helplessness of not being able to talk with anybody," said one customer.

The problem is that the calls to Yes have increased twelvefold since the troubles began, explains CEO Ron Eilon. "We're getting 400,000 calls a day, compared with 30,000 to 35,000 at the most stressed time of the normal summer season. I understand clients don't care about that, but the other side of the equation is that almost no expansion we make in staff is felt at the level of the customer. To meet demand, we'd have to increase our activity tenfold."

Meanwhile, appearing in ads thanking consumers for their forbearance, Eilon says Yes is rewarding users by granting each the right to watch 18 DVD-Box movies for free. Sadly, some complain that they can't take advantage of this largesse because of the disruptions. "That's exactly why this benefit is being granted over time, so everybody can take advantage of it," Eilon deflects the complaint. "It's important to note that we're giving this benefit to all our consumers, not only the ones who suffered from the disturbances."