Consumer groups petition for compensation

14 Mar 2014

Ugandan consumer advocacy groups have petitioned the government to protect the rights of telecoms customers at a meeting with the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), New Vision writes. A representative from the Uganda Consumers’ Protection Association (UCPA) called for subscribers to be compensated for poor quality of service (QoS), billing errors and other issues: ‘We demand for consumer redress by way of reasonable compensation of losses made by consumers arising from charges on unsolicited services [and] unsuccessful delivery of services.’ The spokesperson claimed that the current process for consumer complaints takes too long, and that there was no solution in place to tackle unsolicited messages and dropped or blocked calls. Other advocacy groups, meanwhile, complained about issues of unexplained charges, money transfers and fees for unsolicited services.

Representatives from telcos argued that the majority of issues were not their fault, blaming vandalism and theft for the QoS troubles: Uganda Telecom Ltd’s (UTL’s) chief executive noted that last year the company’s fibre-optic backbone network was cut 1,500 times, whilst a senior official from Airtel added that it had had 106,000 litres of fuel stolen from its sites, in addition to cuts along its fibre network. MTN’s chief legal officer, Anthony Katamba claimed that it is the operators that lose out, rather than customers: ‘When there is a bad experience, the operator suffers more than the customer. We lose money. Operational environment has not been easy with power cuts, fuel stolen; access roads to sites are terrible. The supporting infrastructure impacts on our services.’

Upon receiving the petition, ICT minister Nyombi Thembo gave no indication of what action, if any, would be taken to address the issues raised, except to note that the government’s focus was no longer on affordability and availability, but on quality and privacy.