Following concerns recently raised by Airtel Malawi consumers on social media, the mobile and internet service provider is encouraging its customers to contact its support team directly to ensure its products and services best suit their needs.
Airtel says it welcomes any feedback from customers as that helps to understand how they can do better and ensure working with the relevant authorities, where necessary, to resolve any issues or concerns.
Last week, one of Airtel’s customers, Kondwani Zulu posted on social media Facebook of his frustrating experience when he tried to do some work that involved online research using Airtel data only to fail to do so.
He did not specifically mention what went wrong but he vented his frustration by saying: “One day I will get mad and Airtel won’t like me at all.
“I have started documenting their tripping data. No, I will not switch to TNM. Will just deal with Airtel and this is a promise,” he had said.
He was supported by other people who have also had bitter experiences with Airtel and one of them, Esau Mwamwaya attested that he too wasn’t able to attend some important Zoom chat due to data problems.
As the frustrations mounted with more revelations of alleged unfair services on the part of Airtel, Zulu revealed that he had been contacted by the service provider as well as Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) asking him how to process his complaint.
But Zulu declined this problem solving solution, saying: “I still think this is looking at the issue from a micro level. These issues affect all Malawians and they should look at this at a macro level.
“Will decide whether to do it for me only or for everyone as I am thinking. Taking MACRA to task on their abrogation of duty has been on my mind the whole day. I am still inclined to go that way.”
When contacted to comment on the issues raised, Airtel’s public relations manager, Norah Chavula-Chirwa said whilst tracking concerns outside of their official channels is not always easy, they always try their best to reach out and engage the concerned customers on the sidelines to support them as best as they can.
“Airtel remains a committed partner in supporting the Government’s goal of making high-quality digital services available and affordable for the people of Malawi,” she said.
MACRA separately agreed with Airtel, saying its complaint handling regime is second level in the sense that one needs first to show MACRA that he/she has first lodged the complaint with the communication service operator — in this case Airtel Malawi.
“MACRA only comes in after the service provider has failed to address the complaint and the consumer has lodged the complaint with us,” says MACRA’s Clara Ngwira.
“Let me agree with you that communication services for the consumer need to be protected from unfair deals by operators and that mandate is with MACRA under the Communications Act.
“However, consumers need to follow the complaint handling procedures and processes by first lodging the complaint with an operator. Of course, there are instances where MACRA monitors and detects errors and this is communicated immediately to the operator.”
She added that the consumer is encouraged to report to the operator who manages the network, saying the complaints from the consumer are not supposed to go directly to MACRA but first be resolved by the operator.
“When they come directly, we direct and guide them on what to do. When they are not helped by the operator, we do intervene and approach the operator formally to resolve the complaint.”
She said MACRA shall soon conduct public awareness on the procedures including when consumers are defrauded by the unscrupulous personalities, who are rampant at the moment.
“Mostly complaints border on why the MNOs haven’t given the names of the fraudsters immediately but instead insisted on going via the Police and the Court to obtain a warrant of search.
“The warrant is justified since under the Communications Act as well as the Constitutional right to privacy, the information of subscribers is supposed to be kept confidential.
“Any departure from this privacy principle, requires Court to sanction the departure for it to be a warranted or allowable breach of privacy for the purpose of investigation of a crime.
“However, most consumers give up at this point — when directed to go to police and the Court to obtain the warrant of search. This makes them say the MNO and MACRA haven’t been helpful,” Ngwira said.
MACRA is mandated by PART XVll – Consumer Protection in which clause 151 (1) says: “The Authority shall protect the interests of consumers, purchasers and other users of communication services.
And (2) says: “In the exercise of its functions under subsection (1), the Authority shall (a) Monitor and regulate (i) price charges, (ii) The quality of service (iii) Supply of terminal equipment to consumers; and (iv) Complaints handling among licensees.
In (b), it shall promote awareness among consumers of communication services; and (c) deal with any other matters connected with or incidental consumer protection.
When Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako recently visited MACRA and had asked mobile service providers to reduce data charges, Airtel immediately reduced its pay as you go (PAYG) tariffs.
Asked if this wasn’t an indicator that the consumer was being over charged, MACRA’s Ngwira said since that announcement by the Minister, they have engaged with the two main operators (Airtel and TNM) to relook at the data prices.
“It should be stated from the onset that MACRA has cost models which it uses as a basis in assessing and revising tariffs in the country,” she said.
“While the operators have reduced the headline tariffs for data by almost 74% (TNM has reduced from K25/mb to K4.95/mb while Airtel has reduced from K15/mb to K5/mb), MACRA is still working with the operators on restructuring and reorientation of their bundle rates.
“It is common knowledge that most Malawians use data bundles compared to out-of-bundle data. MACRA will conduct further studies on data tariff structure which constitutes other price build ups such as levies, taxes which are paid by the end consumer.”
Airtel’s public relations manager, Chavula-Chirwa said they have reviewed their data plans in July this year and continue to explore opportunities to reduce the cost of telecommunications services.
“We also encourage the government to review the current taxes on data, as this would significantly bring down the cost of data and deliver increased benefits for many Malawians, as well as help bridge the digital divide,” she said.
The country’s internet services provides that when consumers can buy data but do not keep it for as long as they want to but what they buy for such as for one day, a week or monthly.
If one buys 5GB, they are not allowed to consume as and when they want to as it expires even after using only 1GB.
When asked if there cants be an arrangement that MACRA can come in and work with the service providers for consumers to use the data bought as and when they want to, Ngwira said MACRA understands these concerns and has embarked on an exercise to assess the practicability of the initiative.
“In order to do this, we are benchmarking with other countries mainly in SADC where data non expiry is currently implemented.
“It is only Zambia which has somewhat data non expiry bundles while South Africa has devised data roll over regulations where customers are notified of any remaining data.
“Currently, the business model on bundling [for Malawi] is such that data expires,” she said.
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