Telcos on carpet for poor service

Poor quality service has dogged the operations of local mobile telecommunication companies, leading to customer complaints and dissatisfaction with the services.

Call dropping, cost to business and social relationships and call delays are some of the complaints that have been raised by some mobile phone users.

Responses such as “the number does not exist” and “the number you are calling is outside coverage area” have become the refrain of some of the mobile operators.

But the Ghana Telecommunications Chamber (GTC) says challenges such as the current power disruptions are causing equipment failure, resulting in poor service delivery in some areas.

Other challenges facing the telecos are land litigation, breaking of cables by contractors, stealing of cables and high fees charged by landowners.

According to the chamber, those difficulties affected the capacity of the telecos to expand their services, which in turn affected their service quality.

However, the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) disagrees with the explanation by the telecommunication companies, saying their services were poor before the current load shedding began.

In separate interviews with mobile telephone users, they complained about poor quality service which had affected their businesses.

A charcoal seller in Accra, who gave his name only as Wisdom, told the Daily Graphic that he had incurred extra cost as a result of his inability to contact the truck driver conveying his goods from Somanya to Accra.

“I had previously concluded all arrangements in getting my charcoal to the city. The only arrangement left was to call the driver and tell him where to specifically locate me when he got into town. When I called him at 11.30 a.m., the time I guessed he would have arrived in Accra, I was told that the number did not exist.

“That was the same number I had used in previous communications with him. I tried the number, a Vodafone line, several times and made my colleagues at the market do the same, particularly those using Vodafone lines. But the report was the same — that the number does not exist,” Wisdom said.

Because of that, he said, he had to pay extra to the driver, who later recounted his personal experience of several desperate and unsuccessful attempts to get through.

A mobile phone user who preferred to give his name only as Kofi said he had an altercation with his wife because of the challenge of not being able to get through to her.

Kofi, who works with one of the banks in the city, said his wife had called him at 4:45 p.m. to be picked up from her office as she would close at 5 p.m.

When he reached her workplace at 5:15 p.m. and called, he was told that her phone was switched off.

He said he felt irritated with the feedback because she had called that she had closed and she was also aware that he would call her when he reached her office.

He said he tried several times and even used his second number to call, but all to no avail.

Kofi said he had to give up and walk to the reception for a clerk to call his wife for him.

He said he shouted at her and demanded to know why she had switched off her mobile phone when she knew he would come to pick her.

He said the calm response of his wife that her mobile phone was not switched off saved the day, “but she also got angry that I shouted at her in the presence of some of her colleagues and took it out on me when we got home”.

Responding to those concerns, the Chief Executive of the GTC, Mr Kweku Sakyi-Addo, cited challenges with electricity as one of the factors affecting the quality of mobile telecommunication services.

“Electricity, which constitutes 50 per cent of operators’ operational expenditure, has been inadequate lately. The lack of electricity and fluctuations when power is available also affect equipment and consequently quality of service.

“The current power disruptions are also causing some equipment failure and resultant service disruptions, not to mention the increased expenditure on diesel, which means less funds are available for other critical areas of the business,” he added.

Mr Sakyi-Addo said other factors causing the challenges such as drop calls and call set-up time across networks were a function of the social and economic environment.

He said cable cuts, thefts and bottlenecks in rolling out telecommunication infrastructure all contributed to the poor service.

Mr Sakyi-Addo said about 700 cable cuts were counted between January and October 2012, almost double the number that was counted in 2011.

Cable cuts, he explained, occurred primarily during road construction, with one network, as of January 2013, having suffered 85 cable cuts already.

He said critical sites planned to provide capacity and coverage in identified areas had not been built due to acquisition and community agitation problems.

Mr Sakyi-Addo said as a result of the GTC’s engagement with the NCA and the ministries of Communications and Local Government and Rural Development, the industry’s age-old disputes with assemblies over discriminatory and exorbitant business operating permit fees or charges for telecoms and associated infrastructure had been resolved.

He mentioned, for instance, that there were now guidelines in operation till 2014, with a formula for calculating reviews beyond that date.

Other collaborative initiatives between the GTC and road agencies, particularly the Department of Urban Roads, had resulted in care during road construction processes to minimise disruptions due to cable cuts.

Mr Sakyi-Addo said all needed to understand that it was only when telecom infrastructure was built that quality of service would improve in communities because it was the telecom infrastructure that carried the service.

“Every call drop is lost revenue to the government and the operator and is costly inconvenience to the subscriber,” he acknowledged, but added that after investing nearly $6 billion in infrastructure, the last thing any operator wanted was to deny subscribers access to its network in a very competitive industry.

But Kofi Kapito of the CPA had different views.

He said the services of the telecos were poor even before the recent load shedding.

On the issue of masts, he said the telecos did not have any excuse because they knew the situation before they came to invest in the country.

Mr Kapito suggested that they could put the masts on high-rise buildings to improve their services.

He said consumers should boycott the services of telecos whose services were unsatisfactory and urged the NCA to sanction telecos that offered poor services.