Sunday June 15 2014

UCC , deal with telecoms unsolicited messages

The move by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to suspend telecoms promotions, especially through unsolicited SMS and calls, is good but comes rather late. Worse, in the short-run, the move cannot save users from losing money to the on-going spam SMS and random promotional calls. Because UCC’s planned suspension covers only new promotional SMS and calls, consumers must endure unsolicited SMS and calls until their promotions expire by end of June.

Nonetheless, UCC’s planned move should save phone users who have for several months been subjected to forcible subscription to caller tunes, adverts, news alerts, sales promotions, etc. These unsolicited messages and calls have cost the phone users between Shs150 to Shs500 per instance. Sadly, as UCC’s communications director Fred Otunnu admits, the telecoms operators have flouted the rules despite several reminders, and have carried on the practice and violated users’ privacy, even when clients have opted out and UCC has cautioned them.

Nonetheless, UCC as the sector regulator should accept blame for licensing agents who use telecoms databases to access subscribers’ details. For this, UCC should confess it has failed to stop the SMS providers making quick money by imposing charges on subscribers for unsolicited messages. This unfortunately has violated telecoms users’ rights to privacy as provided for in Article 27. Regrettably, the telecoms regulator is time-bound and cannot control the on-going promotions.

Notwithstanding, when current promotions expire, UCC should rigorously regulate the next promotions. As regulators, UCC is correct to believe promotions increase activities of the telecoms networks and benefit consumers. Just as Mr Otunnu counsels, consumers should be vigilant since UCC cannot totally ban unsolicited SMS and calls because some clients find them useful, for instance, spiritual verses, motivational quotes, and alerts on payment of utilities such as water and power.

Nevertheless, the public demands that UCC speedily addresses their outcries. Indeed, UCC should enforce its voice by ensuring the draft regulations clearly address the breaches and impose appropriate sanctions on errant telecoms operators and third party agents to guarantee privacy of telecoms network users.

UCC as the agency that authorises promotions, schedules and retires them, should compel telecoms and short codes operators to adopt best practices and provide options for customers to accept or decline offers of promotional messages or calls at points of sale of SIMS and handsets as is done elsewhere. UCC should streamline telecoms operations and enforce consumer rights awareness campaigns.