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How serious do Telecoms uphold consumer rights?

By Sheila Atim

On Friday-May 28th, the spokesperson of the CID-Charles Twine sent out a press release indicating that four people had been arrested with attempted fraud after hacking into the email account of Gen Salim Saleh.

His bank was quick to note that he doesn’t use the bank to wallet facility and after investigations, four suspects were apprehended.

Shockingly, the suspects are said to have been found with over 600 fraudulently registered simcards gotten through mobile registration agents.

Which is partly, the gist of the article really. How effectively, do telecom companies carry out the KYC and do they always uphold Consumer rights?

Just to recap, some of the basic consumer rights include right to access to basic communications services at reasonable prices, right to receive information to assist in use of services, right to have access to sector governing information, right to have comparative information, a right to receive services with a quality that reflects the cost of the service, right to receive the level of quality of service that is quoted or stated by the service provider/operator in the service agreement, among others.

Right to information is all too basic to forget. Unfortunately, we are all not too aware of these rights, thus foregoing our obligations as consumers. Not me-today.

This brings me to the issue at hand. First, they say when every hour lost is never regained. Imagine losing a day’s work, with a business heavily reliant on the internet! COVID_19 forced most of us to think new strategies and while we were the biggest losers, telecom companies were the highest beneficiaries-with most homes turned into internet based offices.

 

At my house, we installed what we thought was quality internet. This is my short story of a painful departure, from abuse of my consumer rights by Africel.

On May 28th, with a number of “Sabula bando” adverts playing on some radio stations, Africell services were completely down, with the company making little or no effort to honour consumer demands.

Utility companies like UMEME and NWSC are quick to apologise, inform and rectify. Africell however, had their data streaming platforms off, the network down, internet off and their known numbers switched off. Twitter users sent in queries with hardly any responses.
No responses either, on their social media handles.

Towards the end of the day, 7 hours later, their twitter handle carried a cynical post “Africell keeps giving you more and better offers”. More offers when there is none-I wondered aloud. I walked to the MTN shops where Africell services can be accessed and it was a beautiful waste of time. In an advanced society where consumer rights are taken as serious as they should, Africell’s arrogant breach of trust should have been met with a demonstration and an action statement, which is what I am doing today. I made no deliveries, breaking-on my part, rather my obligation to my clients. Incidentally, even the regulator, UCC seemed unaware of what might have happened although a loud rumour of an impending announcement is eminent.

It would not be the first. In 2019, amidst industry rumors, Africell, was said to be in free fall with claims of accumulated losses, heavily indebtedness and a key intervention from the regulator, UCC giving them a bloodline lease of life when EATON Towers-then, came for them. At the time, the CEO Magazine quoted the Africell Spokesman as saying “all our engagements are premised on well stipulated agreements…we honour our obligations without exception…”.
At the time, the CEO which claimed had gained exclusive access to the audited financials indicated that Africell had liabilities of UgX 258.3 billion more than twice, their total turn-over. But that was 2018/19 and two years later, things should have improved-or are they?Attempting to find out what might actually be going on, we came across a few loud whispers that indicate a possible legal merger of Africell and one of the big twos.

This would not be the first of any such mergers or buy-offs.

Airtel had previously merged with K2 and Warid, while Africell-way back in 2014 had bought off orange telecom which had in all earnest, failed to compete. That though, is not the gist of the article. Mine, which should be every service provider’s duty and obligation should be the respect to the consumer. There are other data service providers in the country.

The big two with national licences have over promised and under achieved and sometimes, promising 4G and delivering 2G, increased dropped calls and spending hefty on advertising budgets where they could invest in greater consumer experiences as the biggest advertisers.

That’s why if the mergers reports were true to hold, I’d migrate to another small one. True to myself, armed with disappointment and once beaten twice shy mentality, I looked up the UCC market reports over the time and the PC-tech write ups. I also asked friends on social media for the best user experience, and which service provider may best suit my home internet needs-quality data for heavy internet and data usage.

Keyword: Quality.

So here goes, fare thee well Africell, welcome home Smile Uganda. I’m told you pioneered the 4G experience in Uganda and that you define quality unlimited. If your experience is nasty, we meet on these same pages.

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