Ugandaâ€™s telecom companies are on the spot for providing poor quality services to their consumers. The dialogue comes hot on the heels of a recently released Quality of Service report by UCC, which indicated that all the telecom companies, MTN, UTL, Orange and Airtel, fell short of the 95percent target for successful calls. Airtel had the lowest success call rate in the entire telecom sector at 92percent. Under fire from a room, almost half-full, consumers put telecoms on the spot for providing evasive and defensive answers, without necessarily explaining what was going on.
Consumer advocacy groups have petitioned government, requesting them to intervene and protect their consumer rights. At a dialogue hosted by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), “fix our phones rights” livid customers subtly expressed their disappointment with service providers, requesting them to act on the poor services.
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The dialogue on Thursday, came hot on the heels of a recently released Quality of Service report by UCC, which indicated that all the telecom companies, MTN, UTL, Orange and Airtel, fell short of the 95percent target for successful calls. Airtel had the lowest success call rate in the entire telecom sector at 92percent. Under fire from a room, almost half-full, consumers put telecoms on the spot for providing evasive and defensive answers, without necessarily explaining what was going on.
Uganda has 17million mobile phone subscribers, of which MTN Uganda is the market leader with 8.8million subscribers.
Consumers raised concerns on unsolicited messages, dropped calls, unsolicited ringtones, deductions on airtime even after a call is dropped and unsuccessful delivery of text messages among others. In their defense, Anthony Katamba, the MTN General Manager in charge Corporate Affairs, insisted that customers were not losing money if their calls were dropped.
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The telecoms, seemingly moving in unison, said that vandalism of their infrastructure was leading to poor services. Ali Khan, the UTL Chief Executive Officer, explained that on average, they were experiencing 1,500 fiber cuts across the country, making their internet services slow. Additionally, Denis Kakonge, Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Airtel Uganda said they were losing millions of money to vandalism on their masts. In 2013 alone, theft of diesel from the masts cost the company in excess of 300 million shillings.
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Airtel topped customer complaints in the last three months of 2013, which they attributed to vandalism. However, a source within the company told URN that they “under-estimated the integration of Warid Telecom.” Airtel acquired Warid in 2013 at 100 million United States Dollars, making it the number two telecom company in Uganda.
Philippe Luxcey, the Orange Uganda Chief Executive Officer, admitted that there was increased vandalism in the industry but said most networks in Uganda are congested. He said the quality of voice is decreasing with the congestion of networks, insisting it is a technical fact. He said this can only be rectified by investment in the infrastructure to improve the quality of phone calls.
Customer advocacy groups also accused UCC of not instituting clear measures to punish telecom companies for the poor quality of services they were providing. Godfrey Mutabazi, the Executive Director, UCC blamed telecom companies for not investing enough to meet the demand from the customers, instead of using vandalism as an excuse. The telecoms however, denied this vehemently, but rather in turn blamed the government for not having the supporting infrastructure.
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Fred Ottunu, the Head of Corporate Affairs at UCC, also said parliament is supposed to approve new guidelines that prescribe fines and penalties for telecoms that breach specific clauses in their contracts. The UCC Act, 2011, is redundant on the fines and penalties for telecom companies that have been providing poor services.