Are you aware of your rights and obligations, as a consumer of Communication services in Uganda?

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Uganda Communications Commission joined the rest of the world in commemorating the Consumer Rights Day which takes place on 13th March of every year. It organized the first communications consumer parliament in Uganda on 13th March 2014 at Imperial Royale in Kampala under the theme “Fix our phone rights”.

The objectives of the consumer parliament were to provide consumers with the opportunity to express their concerns in relation to the theme, enable service providers address consumer issues as required of them and strengthen dialogue and elicit consumer views and input to regulatory policies and programs.

In attendance were service providers who comprised UTL, Orange, MTN and Airtel, government departments, regulators, consumer bodies which included Uganda Consumers Protection Association (UCPA), Uganda Consumer Action Network (U-CAN), CONSENT, I-Network and Wireless Application for Service Providers Association (WASPA). The media and academia, civil society organizations and some members of the public were also in attendance.

The Executive Director of UCC, Mr. Mutabazi Godfrey, in his opening remarks noted that the consumer parliament was intended to provide consumers with a platform to raise their concerns in relation to communication services and have service providers and regulators respond to them. He stated that it was intended to bring services closer to the public.

The Minister for ICT, Hon. Nyombi Thembi, in his opening remarks said that the consumer parliament was a good idea for the communications sector. He noted that initially focus was on citizen access to, affordability and availability of communications services. However, he observed that the current issue of concern among all stakeholders is on quality of communications services, consumer rights and privacy.

Mr. Sam Watasa from Uganda Consumers Protection Association made the submission on behalf of consumers. The key issues raised were that few consumers bothered to lodge complaints, Unsolicited messages from service providers after which the consumer is made to incur the cost, dropped calls, blocked calls, political calls, frequent network failures, terms and conditions for promotions are not usually clear to the consumers, free airtime which serves the purpose of free calls on the same network only, the issue of unsolicited ringtones and lastly on confusing money transfers especially since the tariffs are not clear to most consumers.

Key rights of the consumers are the right to access to basic communication services at reasonable prices, right to information that is clear (understandable), helpful, adequate and accurate on services and choices offered by a service provider/operator to facilitate making an informed choice, right to quality of service that reflects its cost, right to fair treatment without undue discrimination from another consumer, a right to complain about quality, delay, quantity and tariff with regard to the nature of the communications service provided, right to an effective system for handling of complaints and a right to be provided services that are safe and secure. However, consumers also have obligations to fulfill and these include; prompt payment of bills, environmental protection, awareness (be alert and to question issues such as terms and conditions of service), act (be assertive so as to ensure that he/she and other users of the service(s) receive fair deal) and protection of communication facilities.

The debate was then opened to the floor to raise key concerns in relation to communications services after which the different service providers and the regulator were tasked to respond to them.

Some of the recommendations proposed by the consumers were on the need to enact a law on competition since Uganda does not have any. It was also proposed that the different service providers should always give a rights charger to consumers immediately they express their interest to procure a line so that they are aware about the charge rates and other information concerning the services offered and where to go in case of grievances. Concern was also raised in relation to taxes imposed on service providers as consumers are the ones who bear the tax burden.

The debate was officially closed by the Executive Director of UCC.

Compiled by Akite Brenda Otika

Rural Projects Manager-WOUGNET.