MK Miri Regev: Cell phone companies are cynically taking advantage of combat soldiers.

Over the years, cell phones have become the most frequently-used medium of communication on the Israeli scene, and so too in the IDF; but what happens when a combat soldier serving far away from home begins to accumulate large debts to a cellular company, sometimes unknowingly and certainly without the means to pay for it on his low salary? In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, led by Knesset Member Miri Regev, the IDF Personnel and Training Subcommittee held a discussion on the subject. The discussion came after the IDF manpower department turned to cellular companies in an attempt to find a joint solution to the problem.

The head of the IDF Terms of Service Branch, Lt. Col. Chaya Eldad noted that ”To our understanding, this is quite an alarming phenomenon; therefore we certainly expect cellular companies to show sensitivity to soldiers, who have particularly low salaries. Army phones for civilian use are available primarily on central bases and not to combat soldiers or far-flung posts. A situation is created where combat soldiers can keep in touch primarily using their personal cell phone. The bill they receive often flies up while they remain unaware. So, for example, we received a report a soldier who requested leave abroad to attend her father`s funeral; she was stopped at the airport because she had accrued a cell-phone bill of 8,000nis. We are trying to reach an agreement with communications companies, according to which a soldier who approaches his or her budget limit will receive an early notice stating so.”

The director of the ”Bayit Ham” association, Shifra Shahar, claimed that ”up to today we have dealt with hundreds of cases of soldiers stuck in debt to cellular companies. In 2011 alone dozens of soldiers received exit ban orders due to debts they had accrued to cell phone companies. Only a small portion of cases deal with soldiers who can be called irresponsible. 90% of the debts began with small sums that quickly grew. So, for example, there are two cases where a debt of 400nis grew, in four months, to a sum of 4,000nis.”

MK Israel Hasson (Kadima) claimed that if the interest from cell phone companies indeed imposes on debts that quickly rose, as described, then the issue is catastrophic and failure on a large scale. There is no reason why a combat soldier should have to use his personal phone, without the army providing him with a decent alternative.

According to Committee Chair Regev, the IDF is also responsible for those soldiers who enter into debt, especially combat soldiers. A situation may develop here of soldiers who flee service in order to look for jobs that cover their debts. Today, soldiers will stretch themselves or turn to the grey market in search of loans. Cell phone companies cynically take advantage of combat soldiers who have no choice but to use cell phones. The IDF is the biggest consumer of its kind; it has the power to receive attractive options from cellular companies similar to one it gives to those in paid service. An agreement must be reached between the IDF and the Ministry of Communication and cell phone companies that when a soldier overspends, his service will be cut off automatically before he goes into debt.