As a consumer, do you know your mobile phone rights?

Saturday, 15 March, was World Consumer Rights Day and the focus for this year is on mobile/cellular consumer rights. International watchdog group, Consumers International, has established an agenda advocating fair mobile/cellular services, which we highlight.

Mobile phone rights logo (Source World Consumer)

For most of us, Saturdays are the start of a well-deserved respite from the frenzy and stress of the workweek. However, this past Saturday, 15 March, was recognised as World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), the objective of which is to promote consumer rights worldwide.  The global thrust for World Consumer Day has been led by Consumers International (CI), an independent consumer protection watchdog established in 1960, which currently serves over 240 members in 120 countries (Source: Cl).

For the 2014 commemoration, CI launched a campaign, “Fix our phone rights”, which was aligned with its new Consumer Agenda for Fair Mobile Services and will be presented at the World Telecommunications Development Conference in Dubai, 30 March—10 April 2014. The premise for developing this agenda, was due in part, to the following:

  • the indispensible nature of mobile/cellular phones globally
  • the continuing exponential growth in number of mobile/cellular consumers worldwide, and
  • concerns about the wide disparity in consumer experience, in terms of quality, reliability, accessibility, fairness and even integrity of mobile services (Source: Cl).

This year, only six countries in the Caribbean basin had CI-recognised WCRD events: Aruba; Bahamas; Costa Rica; Dominican Republic; Jamaica; and Saint Kitts and Nevis. However, bearing in mind the continued importance of consumer rights globally, and the fact the CI agenda will be receiving considerable visibility in the coming weeks, we highlight the five key rights CI is advocating for on behalf of mobile/cellular consumers.

1.  Provide consumers with access to an affordable, reliable service

According to CI, and cognisant that basic telecoms is an essential service, consumers should have access to affordable mobile/cellular services in order to communicate and to access information. Additionally, those services should be reliable, of good quality and consistent.

2. Provide consumers with fair contracts explained in clear, complete and accessible language

Inherently, the dynamic between a mobile/cellular provider and consumers is unbalanced, as the former is frequently perceived with all of the power and control. As a result, consumers tend to feel intimidated by contract terms and conditions they do not understand, but to which they must agree in order to secure the desired service. Consequently consumers generally feel that they have gotten the ‘short end of the stick’ in respect of those contracts, which they believe are written overwhelmingly in favour of the service provider.

Hence CI is promoting for the following:

Mobile telephony contracts with consumers should always reflect fair provisions with all relevant, accurate, and updated information explained in a clear and accessible manner for consumers to exercise their right to make informed decisions with confidence and based on their needs…

3. Provide consumers with fair and transparent billing

Invariably many of us have had this experience: either, as a post-paid mobile/cellular customer, there appears to be a discrepancy in the monthly bill, or as a prepaid customer, your calling credit appears to have depleted considerably faster than you had anticipated. Although in both instances the customer might have forgotten or overlooked some calls or activities that are reflected in the bill, quite frequently, providers also bill their customers for services that they did not explicitly request.

However, reviewing a bill itself to verify the amounts due can be frustrating, even near impossible, and the process to clarify queries through the service provider can be somewhat protracted. To alleviate this area of contention, CI is demanding that “consumers should be protected from unfair billing practices” and that “all charges should be broken down into detail to ensure transparency and integrity of billing information”, and comply with international network services billing standards.  (Source: CI)

4. Provide consumers with security and power over their own information

Traditionally, service providers were typically allowed, under the service terms and conditions they drafted, to use their customers’ personal information as they saw fit. However, in light of the growing concern and focus worldwide on data protection, CI is of the view that this attention and protection must also be given to the personal data consumers supply to providers in order to secure mobile/cellular services:

There should be clear protection guidelines and mechanisms against any malicious usage or unauthorised solicitation of a consumer’s information. Consumers should have the utmost control on how their information can be utilised and this should be respected by all stakeholders in the telecommunications industry…

5. Listen and respond to consumer complaints

Although many telecoms regulatory regimes are prepared to intervene in customer complaints, frequently, they require the service providers’ own complaint process to be completed, without satisfactory redress or conclusion, before they launch their own investigations. However, it means that a customer complaint can be “in the process of being addressed” by a service provider –almost indefinitely – but the customer is unable to escalate it to the regulator. As a result, CI is recommending that effective complaints systems be established, and the process should be “just, practical, inexpensive and accessible”, and comply with international standards.


Image credit:  Consumers International