NCA must get proactive with fight against Unsolicited Electronic Communication – NCR

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National Communication Authority (NCA)
National Communication Authority (NCA)

The Network of Communication Reporters (NCR) is calling on the National Communications Authority (NCA) to get proactive with the fight against Unsolicited Electronic Communication (UEC) and stop the widespread unapproved airtime charges by the telcos.

NCR believes that since NCA issued the UEC Code of Conduct in 2014, it has not done anything practically to ensure full compliance to the Code, hence, the mobile network operators (MNOs) and their value-added service (VAS) partners continue to violate the code and illegally charge subscribers’ airtime in the process.

No Consent

Section 16 of the Code is very clear on seeking subscribers’ consent before signing them on to any VAS content. Per the Code, even where a subscriber actually makes a request for a particular VAS, the MNO is supposed to send a feedback message to the subscriber for confirmation before signing the subscriber on.

But there is more than enough evidence to show that the MNOs, which are, according to Section 31 of the Code, entirely responsible for the onboarding process and liable for the violation of same, circumvent that laid down procedure and sign subscribers on without seeking their express consent.

NCR has realized and also received complaints from its cherished readers, listeners and viewers that not only do the MNOs and their VAS partners sign people on secretly, but even when a subscriber signs on to just one service on a particular short code, the MNOs/VAS partners pile on other services on that same short code and charge it to the subscriber’s airtime without the subscriber’s consent in many instances.

There is also evidence to show that even when subscribers deactivated hidden subscriptions from their phones, the MNOs and the VAS partners reactivate the same hidden subscriptions without the subscribers’ consent and use same to take from the subscriber’s airtime.

Again, the MNOs and their VAS partners even sign on data SIMs, which are in modems and routers to SMS VAS content and suck the subscriber’s airtime without even the subscriber knowing about it, since the SIM is not in the phone but rather in a router or modem.

NCR has also found that several of these VAS providers which work with the MNOs are companies that sit in India, South Africa and other parts of the world and provide the VAS services into Ghana through the MNOs. They therefore have no regard for the UEC laws of the country, and their local MNO partners just look on.

Revenue Share

Whereas the law enjoins MNOs to protect their subscribers against such practices, we believe the MNOs have no motivation to stop their VAS partners from violating the Code and abusing subscribers because when the airtime is “taken” the MNOs get to keep up to 70 per cent of what is taken, while the VAS providers get only 30 per cent.

This is the more reason why the NCA would have to get proactive with this fight in the interest of the consumer.

NCR would also like to urge the NCA to look into the onboarding practices of these overseas VAS providers, some of which allegedly place weblinks to the SMS VAS content on various websites, including porn sites. That practice also violates the Code, which require MNOs to make the onboarding process transparent.

Sanctions

We believe that the law is very explicit and unambiguous on what constitutes a violation of subscribers’ rights in that regard and what sanctions are there for such violations.

For instance, Section 31 of the Code states that an MNO that violates the Code is liable to Section 50 of the Electronic Transactions Act, Act 772 and to the Regulation 31 of Electronic Communications Regulations, LI 1991. Act 772 states a fine equal to 5,000 penalty units (GHS60,000) per violation.

NCR would therefore like to see the NCA crack the whip and stop this massive illegal charges on subscribers once and for all.

ICH

We would also like to propose that all VAS content be treated as interconnect content and be passed through the Interconnect Clearinghouse (ICH) for proper scrutiny, to ensure that whoever the content is being sent to actually requested for it and same confirmed the request before the content is sent out.

This unfortunate practice started more than twelve years ago, and the issuance of the Code has not stopped it. It is time for some real action and NCR would want to see the regulator take some real action on this very important matter.

In the meantime, it is important for the public to be checking regularly to see if you have been signed on to any hidden subscriptions. The way to check is as follows:

a) MTN – *175#
b) Vodafone – *463#
c) AirtelTigo – *100#
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