Protecting the Rights of African Telecommunications Consumers

At the end of 2003, the Telecommunications Regulators of Southern Africa (TRASA) launched the final phase of their two-year effort to establish regional consumer protection guidelines for the African telecommunications sector. Through the support of dot-GOV, under the USAID/Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA) funded Southern African Development Community (SADC) ICT Policy and Regulatory Support Program (SIPRS) project, TRASA is developing an African Consumer's Bill of Rights to help protect African consumers.

Consumer Protection is Integral to Business Confidence
Consumer protection is paramount for business confidence in the telecommunications industry, which in turn is a key ingredient for economic development. As a result, consumer protection is a core concern for any mature telecommunications regulator.

attendees at the TRASA workshop on consumer protection Traditional consumer issues revolve around concerns of monopoly abuse by a dominant provider: an ongoing issue in the Southern African region until fixed-line markets become competitive. Wireless communications introduce new consumer protection issues (both in terms of increased choice and increased need for protection) as a result of the entry of new service providers in a less regulated, highly competitive market. Regulators in each SADC country are looking for guidance on how to address these issues in comprehensive and effective ways.

Establishing Regional Consumer Guidelines for African Telecommunications
In November 2003, TRASA and the dot-GOV SIPRS project convened a regional stakeholder workshop at Johannesburg, South Africa, to discuss draft consumer-focused regulation guidelines for the Southern African region.

The TRASA initiative, supported by SIPRS consultant Mr. William Schulte, (former Chief of the California Public Utility Commission's, Consumer Affairs Division), serves to facilitate the development of regional framework for consumer-oriented regulation

Ms. Margaret Egler, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau also participated in the workshop. Ms. Egler and Mr. Schulte shared with TRASA a combined breadth and depth of experience on consumer issues on both a state and federal level in the U.S.

Development of an African Consumer Bill of Rights
The workshop resulted in a draft Consumer Bill of Rights with accompanying guidelines address issues of protection and empowerment, as well as an opportunity for interacting with consumer-oriented stakeholders. Included among the principles contained in the draft Consumer Bill of Rights are:
  • Disclosure: Consumers have a right to receive clear and complete information about rates, terms and conditions for available products and services, and to be charged only according to the rates, terms and conditions they have agreed to.
  • Choice: Consumers have a right to select their services and vendors, and to have those choices respected by industry.
  • Privacy: Consumers have a right to personal privacy, to have protection from unauthorized use of their records and personal information, and to reject intrusive communications and technology.
  • Public Participation and Enforcement: Consumers have a right to participate in public policy proceedings, to be informed of their rights and what agencies enforce those rights, and to have effective recourse if their rights are violated.
  • Accurate Bills and Redress: Consumers have a right to accurate and understandable bills for products and services they authorize, and to fair, prompt and courteous redress for problems they encounter.
  • Non-Discrimination: Every consumer has the right to be treated equally to all other similarly situated consumers, free of prejudice or disadvantage.
  • Safety: Consumers have a right to safety and security of their persons and property.
The development of model regulation guidelines is underway, which the SIPRS project will complete by June 2004.

Following this, the next step of the process is for TRASA to adopt the model regulation guidelines at the Annual General Meeting and then to submit the guidelines to the SADC Minister's of Communications meeting in November 2004.

Internews was awarded the SIPRS Project, funded by USAID/Regional Center for Southern Africa (RCSA), on 21 November 2002 for a period of 18 months (Associate Cooperative Agreement No. 690-A-00-03-00037-00 under the dot-GOV Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00009-00).

For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Tisch, Ph.D.
Chief-of-Party, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833-5740 x 203

Field: Brian Goulden
Director, SIPRS Project
Internews Network

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