This is the first guest post on TelecomPk. The purpose of guest posts is to include diverse voices and view points about Pakistan telecom. -Babar

Guest Post By Safeer Ullah Khan

Pakistan’s telecom sector has seen phenomenal progress during past decade. It was deregulated in 1996. Since then, there has been no looking back. It has more than 48million cell phone users, and nearly 1.5 million wireless phone users. Landline is an old story.

Though this phenomenal growth has brought huge benefits to the people of Pakistan, yet it has its downside also. As Pakistan has nominal consumer protection laws, the consumers are being fleeced by every kind manufacturer/business including telecom operators. Wrong billing, deceptive price formulas, connectivity, clarity of voice, sale of used prepaid cards, deceptive advertisements, and lack of any compensation for damages incurred due to bad service of telecom operator are only a few.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority established a complaint cell in 2002 to “facilitate and resolve the complaints made by an individual or a group against Telecommunication services”. Complaints can be reported by a toll free number (0800-55055) or using an online form. However there is no public information about the volume of complaints or its rate of successful resolution of these complaints. Judging from the situation, PTA complaint cell performance has not been satisfactory.

Consumers’ lack of awareness about their rights compounds the problem. Most of the people do not know that they can sue a company for bad service. Their complaints are not resolved. I am in touch with an independent Consumer Complaint Cell being run by The Network for Consumer Protection in Pakistan and know, first hand, that small problems are not resolved by the companies for which people have to turn to Consumer Complaint Cell.

Two large companies (PTCL holding sway in wireless and landline service, and Mobilink having largest number of mobile phone subscribers) are creating problems, which directly affect consumers. PTCL has refused to cut down bandwidth rates, while Mobilink is dragging its feet over Mobile Number Portability issue. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has so far been unsuccessful in taming them.

I believe that this is happening because telecom users are not organized and do not have any say in these affairs. Telecom users need to get organized and establish an Association: Telecom Consumers Association, Pakistan (TCPA) that represents them and guides them in telecom related issues. The Association would make demands on these companies on behalf of telecom consumers. If a company does not behave, it can ask its members to boycott such company.

The Association can take up following functions:

  1. It can create awareness among consumers about their rights with special focus on telecom consumers.
  2. It can conduct quality and popularity surveys independently and let the consumers know which company offers best service.
  3. It can keep an eye on the advertisements being aired by telecom operators and warn (or even sue) companies about unethical or deceptive advertisements.
  4. It can inform its members and public about misleading advertisements of telecom operators.
  5. It can have a good liaison with telecom operators to inform them about consumer issues and concerns.
  6. It can mobilize telecom consumers to arrange peaceful protest rallies against companies that indulge in anti-consumer activities.
  7. It can support and encourage Pakistan Telecom Authority to be tough on companies to protect consumers.
  8. It can take up issues like reduction of broadband price and Mobile Number Portability and pressurize large companies to become consumer friendly.
  9. It can mobilize policy makers/law makers to enact and implement consumer protection laws especially with provisions for compensation.

This is not a complete document. Nevertheless, it can work as a prototype for a big consumer protection association. This will set a trend, and consumers, in other sectors, would replicate it to protect their interests. It can become pioneer consumer protection association of Pakistan. Though it is merely a dream today, yet I have not doubt about its becoming a reality eventually. The sooner we make it happen, the better!

Safeer Ullah Khan is Editor of Sarif ki Pasand, The Network for Consumer Protection. He is based in Islamabad, Pakistan and can be reached at safeer1977@yahoo.com.

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