Friday, 26 December 2014

“Nommer Asseblief” (Number Please)

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 10 September 2014)

A few months ago, my wife and I were discussing our wedding and how we saw married life. My fiancé surprised me by asking that I please install a landline at our house after we get married. The first though on my mind was, of course, with the bad service we are receiving from our mobile telephone companies I cannot blame her. I was rather surprised by this request and even more by her answer: I just want to answer the landline by saying, “This is Mrs Shaanika-Louw speaking”.
The ability to communicate is today no longer a privilege but a right. Each and every one has the ability to get a telephone without waiting weeks, or even months (and yes, sometimes years in the rural areas) for our local telephone service provider to install the lines and the hardware to allow us to communicate with the outside world.
In Namibia, the ability to connect our population was not developed by a private company as in most western countries, but rather a government department that was tasked by the political leadership to get the people connected. In Namibia, even the creation of a mobile network and mobile service providers is also spearheaded by government owned companies.
Internationally, consumer groups have realised that the telephone companies (telcos) are making heaps of money without taking into consideration the rights of their consumers. In many countries it is because there is a lack of competition in the industry, or simply that the government appointed regulators are not doing enough to support the rights of the consumers. This has become such a burning issue that Consumers International (an international federation of consumer organisations) decided to dedicate World Consumer Rights Day on 15th March 2014  to highlight the consumer issues that are undermining and frustrating the success of mobile phone services.
This week I want to take the chance to acquaint you with what are the rights/benefits we as consumers of telephone services should be getting:

·         TELCOs must provide consumers with access to an affordable, reliable service - Consumers want to be able to have access to affordable telephone services in order to communicate and to access information. It is only reasonable that they then expect those services to be consistent and of a high quality without drop outs in service.

·         MTC and Telecom must provide consumers with fair contracts explained in clear, complete and accessible language - Consumers often feel cheated by their telephone service provider, either because of unfair contract terms and conditions or because they didn’t understand what they had signed. Telecom providers should always provide consumers with fair contracts with all relevant information explained clearly so that consumers can exercise their right to make informed choices.

·         Provide consumers with fair and transparent billing - Consumers shouldn’t be billed for services they didn’t request. We demand fairness and transparency in our bills, and protection from billing fraud. There have been regular complaints to this column that the service of the TELCos is non-existent in a specific month – but the consumer is still expected to pay the full rental / usage fees.

·         Provide consumers with security and power over their own information - Telecoms providers and regulators alike must protect the personal data that consumers give up in order to use mobile/data services. Whilst giving consent to use personal data can enhance the experience of using a mobile phone, it can also compromise the consumer’s right to safety. Consumers must be able to set the terms of how this data is used.

·         Listen and respond to consumer complaints - Telecom providers should have effective complaints systems and if consumers are not satisfied there should be redress mechanisms to ensure a fair outcome. We must be able to penalise providers for abusive and unjust business practices. AND please, tell me once that irritating automated service at Telecom is taken down. I cannot argue with the poor defenceless box that answers.
The above rights are encapsulated in the Consumer International statement for World Consumer Day and can also be accessed via their website.
RING-Ring – The user you are trying to reach has been disconnected for being impolite to our level of service. ;-)


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