Unsolicited SMSs infringe customer rights

With the cutthroat competition in today’s business world, every business enterprise is busy implementing every strategy in the book to beat rivals and maximise revenue to stay afloat.

Players in the telecommunications sector are no exception. Today, the players, especially those in mobile phone business, offer more than voice calls. There are several value-added services, including video calls, texts or short-messaging service (SMS) and, above all, Internet connectivity that brings the world to one’s palm.

With mobile phones, notably the smartphone, one can do banking transactions, make bill payments and almost everything while chatting up, in real-time, friends and family in distant places.

To maximise their services and, of course, the revenue base, operators have resorted to using the SMS facility as a medium to advertise their products. They also go an extra mile to sell the SMS advertising space to others for direct message delivery. Under this arrangement, many subscribers would confirm receiving SMSs about voting, vaccinations and population census, just to mention a few.

In 2012, I decried the tendency by mobile phone network operators to bombard their subscribers with messages on various campaigns and the services or promotions they were running. The problem I had was having an operator, either TNM plc or Airtel Malawi, sending people repetitive and unsolicited text messages at awkward hours.

Surely, as subscribers, we all deserve better as we pay for the service. The fact that operators have our phone numbers should not be a blank cheque for them to be bombarding us with unsolicited messages.

In reaction to a public outcry relating to unsolicited SMSs at the time, some operators attempted to give subscribers a choice to deactivate the intrusive messages. Unfortunately, the gesture was short-lived because the text messages resurfaced faster than they disappeared.

Today, the operators continue sending subscribers their messages.

My take has always been that the subscribers should be given options on whether they would want to be receiving such texts from the operator.

To be spared the unsolicited bombardment from operators, perhaps what the subscribers need is a responsive regulator who proactively responds to queries and protects the interests of customers to ensure that they get their money’s worth.

Many consumers may not have problems with messages informing them about a pending immunisation or vaccination campaign either at national level or in specific areas. They may also have no problem to get messages on tips to, for instance, save money or make tangible investment or indeed best health practices.

In case of some operator-generated messages, such as promotions, there should also be a way to minimise the inconveniences, especially with regard to “late posts” dispatched to subscribers at night. It does not make sense for an operator living in the same time zone with the subscriber to be sending promotional SMSs at, say, 1am, 2am or 3am.

Malawians, generally, “suffer in silence”. There are very few of them who take bold steps to query the powers that be to improve service delivery. However, that should not be the justification to give them a raw deal for services they pay a premium to access. The subscribers should not be exploited or taken for a ride in anyway.

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