29 November 2012

Uganda: Phone Firms Face Fines Over Poor Services

Photo: New Vision
Companies that charge for dropped calls will be fined.

Phone companies will be fined for dropped or blocked calls by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) if a new statutory instrument to egulate the sector is passed by the ICT minister. The instrument currently under scrutiny by the minister provides for different fines for quality service that each telecom company fails to meet.

The fines, according to the UCC legal services director, Susan Wegoye, will be determined on the basis of the gross annual revenue for the preceding year. However, the fines will be waived if the drop in quality is caused by war, floods, storms or any other unavoidable natural phenomenon.

"We have equipment capable of monitoring the performance of telecom companies on parameters agreed upon. So, if a call is dropped, blocked or the network fails, our equipment is in position to record and aggregate all these," Wegoye said during a meeting with MPs on the ICT committee yesterday.

Wegoye was responding to queries by MPs about UCC's capability to monitor telecom companies in the country. The ICT minister will scrutinise the instrument in consultation with the Solicitor General before it is gazetted.

However, the instrument, hich is premised on the Uganda Communications Bill, 2012, will not take effect until it is an Act after the President assents to it. The Bill, which was passed by Parliament in September, seeks to merge the Uganda Communications Commission and Broadcasting Council into one body.

The MPs demanded that they are consulted before the instrument takes effect because the UCC has set low standards. Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, for example, noted that the call-up time of 20 seconds was too long.

"Unless one is making an international call, 20 seconds is unacceptable for one connection to go through," Otto said. Target values that will attract fines if not met include dropped calls, call set-up time, point of interconnection blocking, network availability, blocked calls, call set-up success rate, service restoration time, good call quality and SMS completion rate.

In Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda have set a precedent by imposing heavy penalties on leading mobile phone companies over poor services. Nigeria recently imposed $7.3m (about sh20b) on four telecom companies over "a new regime of quality service". Uganda Communications Commission is the regulatory body of the communications sector in Uganda.

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