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Giving Telecom Consumers a VoicePosted by: admin on Wed, 2010-07-14 10:39
Sierra Leone holds annual meetings bringing together consumers and the telecom industry to discuss problems.
Sierra Leone is well-known as one of West Africa’s poorest nations. Yet in the realm of technology, it may now be known as an innovator for giving consumers a voice in the operations of telecommunications in their country. Last month, Sierra Leone held the third session of its “consumer parliament” in the southern city of Bo.
Sierra Leone’s National Telecommunication Commission, which regulates the telecommunications industry, established the consumer parliament to allow stakeholders in the mobile communications sector to interact with their respective customers for efficient service delivery. Held annually, the forum brings together consumers, internet users, GSM (mobile phone) operators, and internet service providers to discuss issues surrounding the effective management of information and communications systems in the country.
According to NATCOM’s communication director, Abdul Kuyateh, Sierra Leone borrowed the idea of a consumer parliament from Nigeria. The telecom consumer parliament, which is now held in Nigeria on a monthly basis, began in 2003. A review earlier this year praised the Nigerian consumer parliament for helping the industry and consumers resolve problems. In addition to holding its parliament on an annual basis, NATCOM modified Nigeria’s consumer parliament model by inviting traditional leaders, local authorities, and parliamentarians to join.
Engaging ICT Stakeholders
At the end of any parliament session, said NATCOM Chairman Siray Alpha Timbo, “We believe subscribers and other members would have been enlightened about some of the issues raised during the consumer parliament, the use of data and other issues that can bring more development to urban and rural communities.”
Abdul Kamara, the operator of a popular telecenter in the capital Freetown, said the consumer parliament is a good initiative. Kamara has participated in all three sessions. Numerous subjects of concern to users of mobile phones and the internet have been addressed, he said, including complaints about poor networking, the high cost of tariffs and the registration of SIM (subscriber identity module) cards.
Addressing Consumer Concerns
Other issues discussed in the consumer parliament sessions to date include: predatory marketing and unfair services, inflated or unexplained post-paid billing charges, questionable practices in prepaid charges, scratch card and voucher failures, tariff manipulation, the practice of publishing low rates and imposing high charges, and call quality and efficiency.
NATCOM’s Timbo says his institution is fully committed to creating universal access to mobile services and the protection of consumers, adding that rural connectivity is significant to his institution’s agenda.
“We want to ensure that each of the chiefdoms have access to telecommunications services. We have realized that there are many challenges but we are striving to overcome them,” Timbo said.
Minister of Information and Communication Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo commended officials of NATCOM for the creation of the consumer parliament. He said the government has been working assiduously to improve telecommunication service.
“We are trying very hard to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015; by that time we should have achieved 75 percent of connectivity in Sierra Leone. We rely on the ability of our operators, government policies and the operators,” he said.
Apart from mobile phone activities in the country, Timbo said they have concluded negotiations with the Indian government to improve landlines across the country.
“The government of Sierra Leone has attracted a loan of $30 million from the Indian government to bring back the landlines as we believe they are fundamental to telecommunication in the country,” he added.
Bai-Bai Sesay is an independent journalist from Sierra Leone, who has written for the Independent Observer Press, the Legacy Magazine, Panos and Africa News Online.
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