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Consumer activists petition UCC over telecoms

By Chris Kiwawulo

Added 21st July 2016 05:15 PM

UCC is mandated to monitor, inspect, license supervise, control and regulate communication services

Consumer activists petition UCC over telecoms

UCC is mandated to monitor, inspect, license supervise, control and regulate communication services

A consumer rights group has petitioned the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) calling for an urgent investigation into widespread swindling of Ugandans' hard earned cash by telecom companies.

The group, Unwanted Witness, argued that telecom companies were cheating Ugandans by charging them for dropped calls, unsolicited messages and caller tunes among others.

The petition filed on July 14, particularly mentioned MTN Uganda and Africell as companies whose subscribers have registered the highest complaints.

"Many Ugandans have for years fallen victim to this telecom scam without any intervention from the regulator who is legally mandated to oversee operations of service providers as well as regulating communication services in the country," the rights group said in a statement.

According to section 5 (b) of Uganda Communications Act 2013, UCC is mandated to monitor, inspect, license supervise, control and regulate communication services in the country.

But close to three years since the coming into force of this act, the group contended, telecom companies have continued to plunder Ugandans for no service offered without being abated.

Unwanted Witness said they were concerned that if such vices continue unchecked by the relevant authorities, they would greatly impact on the advancement of technology as a tool for development in Uganda.

"Technology for development is embedded in government's vision 2040 and this can only be realized if all obstacles to technological utilization by the citizens are addressed by different players," noted Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Unwanted Witness Chief Executive Officer.

Ssebaggala observed that Unwanted Witness had recorded several complaints from different telecom subscribers whose service providers had either cheated them via voice calls or mobile data.

He added that the practice did not only undermine the country's technology development but also violated citizens' consumer rights as enshrined in the UN Guidelines for consumer protection.

Unwanted Witness called on UCC to privately investigate the claims before formerly referring them to telecom companies being mentioned in the petition.

The group also asked UCC to establish an independent consumer protection unit within the commission for timely response to claims and evoke section 1 (K) of the communications Act 2013 to check quality of service offered by telecom companies to the public.

Unwanted witness Uganda is a civil society organization that advocates for safe and accessible online platforms for the realization of human rights and good governance in Uganda.     

UCC, a body mandated to regulate the operations of telecomunications companies, has time and agin said that any deductions that are not approved by subscribers were illegal.

Commenting on deduction of clients' airtime arising from unsolicited short messages and other programmes, UCC's director for competition and consumer affairs, Fred Otunnu, recently said UCC had received several complaints from subscribers.

"Subscribers usually come to us when they complain to the service provider and they are not helped. In the cases we have handled, we have contacted the telecommunication companies and where it has been proved beyond reasonable double that a client's airtime has been illegally deducted, we have asked them to refund it," he said.

Otunnu explained that unsolicited messages are supposed to be free of charge. "Content providers (SMS companies) that use telecommunication companies' platforms to send messages have service agreements. The conditions for which we assign numbers to content providers are that unsolicited messages should be free and they should provide an option where a client can unsubscribe a given service if they do not want it," he stated.

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