Africa’s telecoms users get raw deal

THE price of telecoms services and slow internet access speeds are the main gripes consumers have with telephony and internet service providers.

Fresh research on the telecoms industry by Balancing Act carries no surprises but confirms that many users in Africa are getting a raw deal.

Fixed and mobile operators alike were markedly reluctant to provide data on the amount and type of complaints they received, saying it was commercially sensitive information.

But the researchers ascertained from other sources that the main complaints were the price of services, particularly the high cost of local calls on fixed lines; network congestion; poor network coverage; dropped calls; and being charged for SMS messages that were not delivered.

The speed of repairs, wrong bills and poor fixed lines also raised consumers’ ire.

The main complaints to internet service providers were slow speeds; frequent disconnections; slow responses to complaints; the cost of high speed ADSL lines; frequent downtime; and slow repair times.

The research covered 30 countries, including an in-depth look at SA but the findings were not particularly comprehensive. Cell C said it considered details about the complaints it received to be highly confidential and strategic.

MTN declined to participate.

Vodacom said its customer care line received large numbers of calls each day, most of which were dealt with on a self-help basis via interactive voice response. Only a small percentage were genuine complaints, which usually came from wealthier, contract customers.

Telkom said it comprehensively tracked consumer complaints with an extensive breakdown of who moaned about what. The details were analysed at weekly meetings, although it was not about to share the “highly confidential, competitive information” with Balancing Act.

In the survey of 30 countries, only Angola, Guinea, Mauritania and Rwanda lacked active consumer organisations. But in many countries, consumer organisations did not tackle complaints in the telecoms and internet sector.

Only SA, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal had consumer organisations specifically focused on telecoms and the internet.

The researchers recomm- ended that regulatory bodies address price, quality and access to services more directly, particularly the lack of price competition among cellular operators.

“Few regulators have taken on the task of improving quality of service from mobile operators as they lack either the will or the capacity,” the report said.

Regulators should consider forcing operators to publish information on the numbers and types of complaints.

“While this is likely to be resisted, it would encourage responsiveness and act to promote consumer empowerment and freedom of choice.”

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Africa’s telecoms users get raw deal