Do you have moments when you feel like the telecom company you subscribe to is cheating you? You are not alone, in fact most Ugandans do. I am yet to stand in a clique of people who sing praises of any telecom company in Uganda despite the high competition.
The most common culprits however are MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda. You never run out of hearing the occasional complaints such as data bundles getting depleted too fast, sometimes the data bundles you load don’t work, some telecoms like MTN even secretly deduct your airtime without your consent or subscribe you to crazy features such as weekly soccer updates or bible quotes or caller tunes.
You cannot run out of a new story making waves or a recorded audio of a fed-up customer calling the customer care helpline and unleashing all sorts of local vocabulary you never even knew existed. I remember the first one I heard was of an elderly very angry Hajji who called MTN and went on for more than 5 minutes, after listening to the audio, my ears were left ringing like I had been listening to an uncensored grand Eminem song.
There is also the dilemma of our data prices, we have some of the most expensive internet prices in Africa if not the world and it doesn’t make sense since we have the technology and several subsidized broadband terminals such as Google’s Gigabit network, EASSy, TEAMs, etc.
The biggest question going through your mind is, why? What is wrong with our economy? The right question though should be, what is wrong with our Telcos?
Also read: Why the Fuel Prices in Uganda are High
For instance, have you ever loaded airtime and made an accidental transaction? You would think after all the years of innovation, trust and client loyalty, they would have put an undo option on the USSD menu but there is none. If you don’t know, you may not even call customer care who can reverse the transaction for you. Even then, there are caveats.
I learned this when I loaded more than 50,000 UGX of airtime, that is a lot of money to make an error on and I accidentally loaded a package of 20,000 UGX. It was an honest clumsy mistake. Luckily, I didn’t call or text or turn on data, it was a new Kyabise package at the time; I called customer care and they told me I must not use it for the next 24 hours as I await reversal.
That meant for 24 hours, I couldn’t call anyone on Airtel if I had a problem. I just sat and looked at my phone like a pumpkin for 3 hours until I remembered I could load minimal airtime and use my MTN line for the meantime.
Most of the telecom companies in Uganda have formed an understanding which has made the market to be oligopolistic in nature. Especially MTN and Airtel, they collude on what prices to set for most products and maximise the benefits, this usually drives the few companies which are not in the club to either forcefully make similar price adjustments or compete and eventually run out of business.
That is why you will notice Africell is struggling to catch up, their resources can not directly match the ones of Airtel and MTN Uganda. Those two telecoms alone account for more than 80% if not 90% of the market with Airtel having more than 10 million subscribers.
Other than the greed to keep making more profits – since MTN some years ago would make more than 2.6bn UGX a week; there is also high tax on communication services especially on calls and internet by URA not forgetting the royalty premium they have to pay annually to UCC just like radios and TVs do.
If you recall, MTN Uganda was the country’s highest tax payer for close to 8 years straight once upon a time. It is factors like these that at times also contribute to the telecom companies shifting almost the entire tax burden to us resulting in high service prices.
We suffer with this even when we know it is exploitative because we don’t have an option or simpler alternative. If only digitization could spread faster and we have more people in rural areas with access to smartphones and stable internet, then it is easy because when you shift to another service provider all you have to do is WhatsApp all your contacts your new number in seconds at almost no cost.
Yes, the UCC could do something about all this, but they are probably engaged in more time-consuming battles like getting all subscribers to use National IDs for them to have time for this now.
Let’s see what the future holds.
Lawk is a mozillian, writes for Spur, Newslibre and consults part time for Every1Mobile and Innovware.
He loves open source, the open web, writing, reading and developing literacy tools that can teach the youth around the world especially in East Africa.