Uganda’s Telecoms Watchdog to Educate Consumers

Telecoms

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the country’s regulator is planning to start publishing complaints in the media raised by the public as a means of creating awareness. The move is also aimed at encouraging consumers in the communications sector to speak openly. "This will act as an empowerment tool," said Fred Otunnu, the UCC director of communications and consumer affairs.

He was speaking during a workshop on consumer rights last week. It is envisaged that once the frequency of their poor service is exposed, then operators will be forced to improve their service quality. The consumer still faces challenges like slow Internet speed, ambiguous service agreements, unclear call lines and unsolicited e-mail.

A lack of consumer rights awareness, strict requirements for complaints, fees for making complaints (in the form of non-toll free complaints line), continue to discourage consumers from airing their grievances and many of them opt to suffer silently. This according to the regulator has led to many years of consumer suffering "and they still have a long way in enjoying the benefits of their full rights."

There were calls by industry players that operators like telecom firms also be compelled to publish the complaints they receive from their clients and how they address them.

There is an increasing need for operators and regulators to concentrate on the needs of the consumers because market trends and businesses are now consumer-driven. Firms and operators that chose to ignore the consumer usually suffer in the very competitive market. "Owners now design their products according to the changing needs of consumers," said MTN legal and corporate executive, Anthony Katamba.

Katamba, speaking for the private sector and citing MTN as an example, said the telecom giant was planning to hire 750 customer service personnel by the end of the year to bolster customer service. Katamba mentioned continuous market challenges as the depreciating shilling, which has increased the cost of doing business, heavy taxation, and bureaucracy in getting key approvals.

Otunnu disclosed that the Commission had established a fully-fledged consumer affairs unit, which reviews and analyses consumer enquiries. "We usually handle complaints within 15 days although I appreciate that we have not been up to the point," said Otunnu. "We are planning to use a popular radio station to popularise our activities and try to reach consumers that do not have the technique of Internet."

Meantime, a watchdog body, Uganda ICT Consumer Protection Association has been formed. The body will play an advocacy role. It's believed that this will go a long way in ensuring that the consumers get timely hearings in case of major complaints.

New Vision