UCC’s conflict of interest leading to loss of Ugx. 1.7billion daily!

On the face of it, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is performing its regulatory mandate well. However, a closer look reveals all is not well. Here are areas that need urgent attention.

Unsolicited messages

This is one of the biggest problems affecting mobile phone subscribers, and said to cost them about Ugx 1.7 billion daily.

Call it daytime theft. There are many complaints that have been reported without success, including the famous cases by human rights activists about SIM card registration. UCC has not adequately created user awareness as well as acted on the dubious businesspeople who send messages to unsuspecting subscribers.picture one finalThere is a wide-held view that the regulator has failed to step in and help subscribers, who continue to appeal to telecom companies to stop automatic subscriptions without any help. Few people know that telecoms don’t send unsolicited messages or campaigns. Content providers, licensed by UCC, do send such messages via the telecom infrastructure. Analysts believe UCC behaves as if they are helpless, which is unacceptable considering their mandate is to help the consumers.

UCC regulates both telecom operators and content providers for the benefit of the Ugandan consumers, the telecom subscribers, to ensure value for money, service quality, and fair pricing, among others.

The overarching mandate is to ensure a stable telecom environment, service delivery and consumer protection. On a daily basis, an average Ugandan consumer receives about two unsolicited messages, some of which are auto subscribed to some news and songs. Many people have had to call telecom companies requesting to be ‘unsubscribed’ in vain. The catch is the telecoms are not responsible for unsolicited messages. They just provide the infrastructure for content providers to use, which tend to abuse the system by engaging in push advertising and similar schemes intended to bring revenue to them.

To provide content over the telecom system, UCC licenses the companies, by issuing a unique short code. If you are in Uganda, you have seen a message from codes like 8198, 8008, 6600, 6080, 8010. And then the sucking ones like 153, 178, 155, 406, etc. Some of these are telecom specific and they will inform you of your recent subscriptions to their ‘mystery voice’ or song. Before you know it, Ugx 1,000 is off your phone.

Keep in mind that UCC regulates both providers: why has UCC appeared in the media to be helpless to customer complaints over their lost money loaded on their phones to make voice calls? Of course, UCC earns revenue from both telecoms and content providers. For this reason, it has conflict of interest to also protect consumers. There is need to transfer the mandate of consumer protection to another authority, preferably Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to ensure effective consumer protection. It is difficult for UCC to protect consumers against parties it earns a lot of revenue from.

FM frequency allocations

This is one of the impending time bombs. There are many duplicated frequencies. The same frequency band is allocated to two different radio stations located in different towns in Uganda. As the country develops, and owners of the respective radio stations invest more in signal improvement, the airwaves are getting ‘confused.’

Take a case of a radio station running on frequency modulation (FM) 89.22 in Kampala. UCC will license another radio station in say Mbarara on the same frequency range. That is not a bad thing, if the two radio stations continue using rudimentary technology such that there radio spectrum remains within a small geographical area.

But that is not the case. As the radio stations expand their geographical reach, it becomes difficult to pick any of the radio signals. You will experience such problem around the areas of intersection.

Consider the structure below:

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At first, there were few radio stations concentrated in Kampala. We had BBC, Radio One, Sanyu, Capital and many more came on.

Keep in mind that the radio frequency is about 88.00 to 108.1. That is the range within which a given radio must be assigned frequency to broadcast on. For example, frequency number 90.0 is assigned to Radio One, it cannot be available for another radio station. In effect, Radio One has invested a lot of money promoting their frequency. It is the equivalent of one’s Internet domain name or plot number. The owner has rights to the frequency anywhere in Uganda. Anything short of that is anti-competitive as it limits business expansion.

However, UCC’s continued focus on money is leading to the same problem. As you travel from Kampala to Mbarara, you reach a place where two stations compete for the same frequency number. This is the point of intersection.

The big question is if indeed two different radio stations are on the same frequency, how will they co-exist? How can one invest in their frequency only to get a notice to stop broadcasting on it? Who will pay the costs of the resulting legal battles and fines? Over to you folks at UCC, as this problem needs urgent fixing before it gets out of hand.

SIM card registration

Now the ministry of Internal Affairs is implementing a national identification card project expected to be complete before the next national elections in 2016. The national IDs will become the universal identities for nationals and are expected to overcome the problem of forged IDs and duplications.

This development comes a year after UCC implemented national SIM card registration. The regular provided guidelines for registration of the same.

A year after registration, mobile phones have continued to be used to commit some of the most heinous crimes, including the recent case of kidnap of a young girl whose life was cut short. To date, the progress in the apprehension of the culprits has been hazy; with UCC top honcho coming out to explain that “the suspects can be apprehended” not “shall be apprehended.” This comes on the backdrop that fighting crime was the promise given by UCC in the campaign for registration. And that is not the bad thing.

It has been rumored that the integrity of the records is suspect, as many phones were registered to wrong people or wrong identities. When you check the owner of a given phon0e, you find someone who is completely different considering the circumstances of some cases.

It is anticipated the SIM card registration project could be repeated altogether after the national identity card project. Who will pay for this?

March 20th, 2018 | by

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