Pelephone Management Summoned to Israel's Communications Ministry

Lawyers filed a class-action suit in a Nazareth court, claiming that the cell-phone provider's service blackout disrupted lives and that the company should have had a contingency plan.

The management of Pelephone was summoned to the Communications Ministry on Tuesday for an urgent meeting following a service breakdown on Sunday.

The cell-phone provider's management was called to a meeting with Eden Bar Tal, the ministry's director general, to discuss the four-hour service blackout on February 3, during which 3 million Pelephone customers could not make or receive calls – or even send text messages.

At the same time, the ministry announced a new procedure – initiated prior to the breakdown – which providers must follow to restore services. According to the new guidelines, in case of a system breakdown, a ministry representative has to be present in the company’s control room, providing assistance where required and coordinating with government services, other providers and security agencies.

Ministry officials were not involved in restoring services this time, but will investigate the incident. “The ministry wishes to stress that they do not wish to replace providers’ engineers and technicians, but only to ensure that corrective measures are being taken, after establishment of correct priorities,” a ministry spokesperson said.

A class action suit has already been initiated. A claim for NIS 450 million was filed against Pelephone in the Nazareth District Court. The suit was filed by attorney Tom Lifshitz, who claimed that the network collapse left him helpless, imposing on him an involuntary disconnect from the world. Lifshitz, who is represented by the legal firm Rihan, Hani & Bassel, claims that “the mobile phone has become an inseparable and crucial part of our daily lives, and every minute in which we cannot communicate disrupts the fabric of our lives.”

In his words, Pelephone is a wealthy, professional company which should have taken precautions against such an event.

“Pelephone raked in millions of shekels without a contingency plan in place in case of a possible collapse of the network. This is a slap in the face of its clients,” Lifshitz said. The plaintiffs argue that 3 million customers deserve better service. Monthly service fees should cover the entire period, and the company should not benefit from dead time, in which no service is provided. The suit is seeking NIS 50 of non-monetary damages and NIS 100 in monetary damages for each of Pelephone’s 3 million customers.

Meanwhile, Pelephone CEO Gil Sharon told reporters on Monday that customers could choose compensation for their inconvenience: 60 minutes of free calls within Israel or to the United States and Europe, or 500 MB of Internet surfing. He did not say how much it would cost the company. Some customers responded with scant appreciation, remarking that their service packages enabled them to make as many calls as they please within the country anyway.

With reporting by Reuters

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