Saturday, February 21, 2009

Do telecommunication operators in the country exploit consumers?

By Bernard Kihiyo
Since the establishment of cellular firms in Tanzania; this sector is one of the fast growing service industry in Tanzania. I do have the feeling that; service users (consumers) are enjoying the services of telecommunication operators as it has been very easy to communicate amongst themselves any where in Tanzania, some in very rural areas and charges for telecommunication services in Tanzania had been a bit cheaper when one compares the figures/charges from the past five years; this has been caused by the presence of several operators competing to acquire significant percent of a market share.

However the marketing strategy in use by some telecommunication operators when selling their products; on some occasions appears to be unethical.

I believe telecommunication companies are moneymaking corporations just like any other: they exist to create profit. The overarching aim of corporate telecom promotion, therefore, is to increase profits by raising consumer demand for telecommunication products as effective ways to influence consumer opinion.

But; this approach fuels unethical service promotion in several ways; the most common violations include: promoting misleading or false claims about a telecommunication services, and deliberately suppressing risks such as radioactive effects of some telecommunication devises by using product awareness campaigns for service promotion rather than consumer’s health promotion.

For instance; you might be told; you will be given free minutes or text messages but you have to pay a certain amount of money as one of the condition; in other words this is not free service but a discounted charges for a service. This approach and many others lead to irrational use of some services by consumers and cause exploitation on consumer income and consumer receives less value for their money in return.

What is the way forward?
First and foremost one has to ask this question; ‘’who regulates telecommunication service promotion in Tanzania?’’ One could say Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) but unfortunate the answer to this question is predominantly the telecommunication companies themselves, TCRA and the government are not highly active in monitoring corporate abuses with this note consumers are the one to suffer.

Prevailing issues such as having; weak consumer associations, low awareness of consumers themselves on their rights and obligations, weak regulations make our markets an easy target for unethical marketing, TCRA’s lack of equipment and technology to prove a point on unethical conducts are added constraints in the monitoring of corporate unethical promotion activities in Tanzania.

Countries with self regulatory promotional strategy such as Europe and America do have strong consumers’ movements which can check and balance the market but not for Tanzania. The current market situation is clear evidence that self regulation does not protect consumers against unethical and sometimes illegal promotion tactics.

Consumers have a strong interest in effective competition policy and regulation. Rules are needed to control anti-competitive behaviour in all market economies, whatever their mix of private and state enterprise, to ensure lower prices, better choice and quality, and access to essential goods and services

Tanzania Consumer Advocacy Society wants regulation that fully covers all areas of telecommunication and we also want to see telecommunication service information is regulated on its genuineness by an independent, accountable watch dog. A deliberate effort should be done by all sectoral regulatory authorities; in this case Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and other key stakeholders to raise consumer awareness on their rights and obligations.

TCAS believes the best way to ensure service users in Tanzania get rational, impartial treatment from telecommunication operators is for consumer to be able to understand easily the call cost of each call s/he is making whenever s/he wants for self cost control.

There should be a national campaign aims to reduce undue risks to consumer health and safety posed by radioactive effects of telecommunication devises. Moreover Telecommunication operators should be hold accountable for compliance with global codes for ethical product promotion

We have to hold TCRA accountable for rigorous enforcement of regulations on telecommunication services product promotion in order to uphold consumer rights to safety and information. There must be deliberated efforts to improve consumer access to credible, reliable and transparent service information.

Many Tanzania consumers today want to behave sustainably, but find it is not easy to translate that aim into action. There is often a gap between the consumer’s interest and their everyday action, TCAS is hereby to complement government and other key stakeholders efforts to bridge the gap.

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