NCA moves to regulate telecom promotions

Ghana’s telecom industry regulator, National Communication Authority has drafted guidelines to regulate “all promotions and packaged services by telecom operators in the country.”

Copies of the Draft Guidelines have been submitted to all telcos in the country for their input and comments before it is finalized for implementation.

It is not clear what exactly the guidelines are, but your authoritative Adom Business intercepted a copy of the cover letter that went with the draft, and in it the NCA said the guidelines are to “establish and monitor communication standards and to protect the interest of consumers and operators.”

Telcos in Ghana offer several promotional tariff plans beside their default rates and customers do complain that they sometimes get confused about how much they are paying when they access any of those promos.

The NCA and the telcos recently introduced “Instant billing feedback” to help customers know exactly how much they are charged for each activity on their phone, including calls, SMS and internet browsing.

However, the “instant billing feedback” comes only after the customer has finished the activity, but the NCA believes customers must know how much they would be billed for each activity even before they undertake the activity, and the various promotions by the telcos do not yield themselves for easy understanding.

The letter from NCA therefore stated that the guidelines would, among other things, ensure that consumers clearly understood the difference between default call rates and other promotional call rates that telcos offer, operators have clearly defined default rates, terms and conditions of the benefits of the promotions and packaged services are clear to consumers and operators worked in a competitive and fair environment.

But one of the purposes of the guidelines, which some telcos have privately expressed concern about, is where the NCA said it needs to be aware and to approve of all tariff-related promotions by the telcos.

Adom Business can however confirm that the guidelines would not affect marketing promotions that are considered as games of chance or lottery under the respective National Lottery Authority and The Gaming Acts.

The NCA has however submitted the draft guidelines to the telcos for comments and inputs, and that would impact on what the final set of guideline would be.

Meanwhile, some telcos have expressed concern that the guidelines may hamper exciting promotions and customer loyalty rewards schemes, if the NCA decides to disapprove of one such promotion or the other at any point in time.

The telcos said their aim in doing such promos is to deliver value to the customer, adding that in all this the customer must be the ultimate winner, but such interventions by the NCA could be counterproductive.

They are concerned that under the guidelines regime, the NCA might refuse to approve of one or another promo by a telco, which would then deny customers of the benefits and value telcos want to give its customers. But that is still speculative.

Meanwhile, it remains a fact that the dynamics of some telco tariff promos are too complex for consumers to grasp. In some cases, one promo has about six different faces and the consumer loses track trying to understand the full detail of the promo.

A single promo could have different tariffs at night, early morning, peak hours, weekends and even other benefits based on how much airtime for calls or SMS or data one spends in a day. All these are not very easy for the customer to track.

Some promos also require the customers to dial a certain short code, which allows the telco to automatically reactivate the service on offer and bill the customer at the end of the expiry date without another permission from the customer.

In some cases, the billing does not favor the customer, as some charges could occur on the background without the customer knowing. Indeed, there are times when the billing also goes against the telco and that would also be tackled under the guidelines.

Promo short codes regulation
Meanwhile, in a related development, the NCA is working on regulations for all the short codes used by telcos for promos and for value added services (VAS). The NCA recently harmonized short codes for customer service and promised to do same those for the promos and VAS.

This, the NCA believes, would bring some sanity into the system and cut the abuse of customer rights, where telcos and their VAS partners provide services on short codes to customers and charge them even though those customers have not subscribed to any such service.

So the NCA is looking at issuing and regulating those short codes by itself to cut the abuse.

There is also an Interconnect Clearinghouse license in the often, and the licensee would, among other things, be charged with ensuring that no telco or VAS provider abuses any customer in that manner.

Some VAS providers believe the abuse need to be cut, but the NCA may not be able to compel telcos to activate promo short codes issued by the NCA, since the equipment for operating those short codes are expensive and telcos need to be sure that any short code issued by the NCA would bring benefits to the telco if they activate it.    Story by Ghana|Adom Business|Samuel Nii Narku Dowuona/[email protected]

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