Consumers Decry Unsolicited Charges

A mobile phone user

Telecom subscribers have expressed dissatisfaction with the way telecom companies bill them, a new report by the Uganda Communications Commission notes, although the overall quality of service has improved.

According to UCC’s Quality of Service survey [QoS], 36 per cent of the total complaints received were on unwarranted billing, while 24 per cent arose from unsolicited messages. Some consumers said Uganda Communications Commission [UCC] had not done enough to protect them from the telecom firms’exploitation.

“I have had a problem where you borrow money to make a call on another network and they [service providers] tell you that you cannot get that service, and they go ahead and charge you once you put on money, and yet you have not used the service,” Brenda Ntale said.

The consumers were speaking at the second Communications Consumer Parliament [CCP] under the theme ‘Empowering consumers through knowledge’ organized by UCC at Imperial Royale hotel last week.

The objective of the consumer parliament was to provide consumers with the opportunity to express their concerns to the service providers and the regulator so as to improve services.

The grievances that dominated the discussions include: unwarranted billings, unsolicited messages, bad complaint handling mechanisms, poor internet services and the mystery surrounding the digital migration switchover.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of UCC, said operators with poor services would be penalized. A 20122013 survey conducted by Consumer Aocate Organization, a civil society organisation, showed that about 40 per cent of subscribers experienced dropped calls. It added that the revenue loss as a result of the dropped calls paid by consumers was more than $500 million. Uganda has over 15 million active subscribers.

OPERATOR’S RESPONSE

The service providers, in a joint presentation, said the vandalism of their network infrastructure had affected their systems, and ultimately the quality of service. They also pointed to the heavy taxes and the unreliable power as the other barriers.

Oscar Kabata, the regulatory and competition affairs aisor at Uganda telecom, said: “We continue to face challenges in our quest to provide high-quality services. Key among the challenges is the issue of rampant vandalism of site elements and other network infrastructures. For instance, in 2014 over 100 litres of fuel were stolen from our sites and 60 per cent of our lightning arrestors were vandalized. Further, a whole site of 50 meters was decommissioned by thieves.”

He continued: “We have all met our targets of dropped call rates. In fact, there has been an improvement by 60 per cent in our performance against this case. So, in case your call drops, you are not going to lose any money.”

According to Kabata, the survey also found out that mobile phone usage had declined, probably as a result of the heavy taxes. The operators want members of parliament to reconsider the tax policy on telecom services.

John Nasasira, the minister of ICT, said engagements are ongoing to harmonize some of the taxes in the telecom sector.

“We are in discussion with the finance ministry on what to tax and where to tax. We need to make Uganda a competitive region. We need revenue for development but we also need taxation that will guarantee growth in the sector and the economy,” he said.

Nasasira called upon telecom operators to forge a way towards reducing the cost of internet. He said: “We must have a solution to the cost of internet. Uganda cannot continue having the cost of the bandwidth that expensive because at the end of the day it’s the consumers who suffer.”

Source : The Observer

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