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Where phone subscribers are not protected by law

15th March 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

Mobile phone services have undergone massive changes since they were introduced, taking the world by storm.

First are the pace and degree of communication as well as the speed of doing things, followed by the network providers’ expansive control of these aspects.

What could take years and even generations to do in those old days now takes a matter of minutes or seconds to accomplish, mostly thanks to the wizardry of the cellular or mobile telephone.

Whereas previously one would need to travel thousands of kilometers to have certain assignments done, now a single phone call can work miracles.

Things have vastly changed with this abridgement of technology such that offices and homes no longer are the little, secluded and quasi-private entities they used to be before the advent of the handset.

Offices and homes alike have been modified and they are for all practical purposes ‘in one’s phone’ and perhaps ‘in many people’s phones’.

That more than 23 million people in possession of handsets in Tanzania shows how fast this technology, perhaps more than any other, has been embraced.

Arguably, what has made it this popular is the ongoing “money on the phone” business, what with people able to transfer, pay and receive money from and to individuals and organisations. It is said that over 10bn/- changes hands though this system on a daily basis.

Surely, these scientific and technological achievements have made people freer and some trade transactions near effortless.

But despite the massive achievements arising from the technological development, consumers occasionally fall victim to exploitation by some dispensers of this technology. Too bad, there is as yet no law to protect them.

For instance, for a person who owns a phone, it may be necessary for a network provider to issue notification on the safety of the services they discharge. But would it be fair for the same service providers to use the phone as the media through which to advertise their businesses?

Fair trade practices demand that both the medium (handset) and the chip (line) remain the preserve of the owner (buyer) and not the network provider. Accordingly, should the latter wish to use a particular phone for own ends, they should pay for such advertisements.

Strangely, this is not what we are witnessing, and unfortunately there is no law to protect the consumers.

Equally lacking legal control is the “money on the phone” business. While massive sums of money have been changing hands ever since this mode of business was introduced, subscribers have been losing out to network providers just because there is no law to guard the former.

For example, all the money transacted daily passes through the account of a single mobile phone service provider. Thus, all the money lying in a particular provider’s bank account when the bank issues interest goes to the phone provider and not the phone subscriber!

These are but some of the few areas the Bank of Tanzania and the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority need to critically look into, with a view to ensuring a fair deal for the millions of people using mobile phone services.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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