|National Communications Authority (NCA) has begun a public consultation process that seeks to amend and tighten the existing Unsolicited Electronic Communication (UEC) Code of Conduct to completely eliminate all third party UECs, be they free or paid.
The UECs in question include fax, SMS/MMS and pre-recorded voice/video messages, which consumers receive on their phones without asking for them, and yet they get charged for some of those messages.
The NCA has therefore posted the newly proposed code on its website seeking inputs from the general public between now and January 24, 2017, to shape the new code to better protect consumers from UECs and ensure best practices in the telecom industry.
How we got here
It is no secret how telcos and or their value added service (VAS) providers send SMS and calls from short codes to phone users who have not asked them.
Some of these messages and calls are free of charge because they
are just adverts, but others are not free of charge and customers often get charged premium rates without their express consent.
All this is happening in spite of the existence of regulation that bars telcos and their VAS partners from sending such messages and calls to consumers without solicitation.
With the generally fair to low level of technology savviness among Ghanaians, loads of phone users are often not even aware they have been put on such premium-rated short code services.
Indeed, many of consumers complain in the mainstream and on social media about how they lose airtime without knowing exactly how, while others complain of flooded inboxes with messages they never asked for.
As a result of the several complaints, the NCA is seeking to amend the existing UEC code to completely eliminate all UECs from being sent to consumers, except a selected few like notification of transactions and relevant information directly from telcos.
The existing code allowed telcos to send notification of transaction, service-related information directly from telcos, information/education about offers the telcos have, and free adverts from third parties.
But the new code, if it comes into force, would completely eliminate any third-party adverts, and more importantly any premium-rated short code service without the consent of the consumer.
Highlights of Code
The new code would only allow some categories of information from telcos; these include billing feedback, changes in tariffs and information on network disruptions.
“These messages should relate only to transactional communications and should exclude all promotional information from the network and third party suppliers,” the NCA said on its website.
It would also allow another set of UECs called Network Commercial Communications, which may be used to promote and educate consumers to enhance usage of the network or to introduce a network related product or service and without any third party supplier information.
The new code also seeks to provide the rules regarding the need to have the customer’s consent before sending them certain categories of messages; and it also outlines details of what constitutes consent.
It for instance requires service providers to seek the documented (not verbal) consent of consumers before putting them on any short code service. This is because each service provider would be required to show proof of written consent in times of dispute.
The code for instance, states that even if a customer gives verbal consent, the licensee/service provider must ask that customer to send SMS to confirm consent before sending that customer any electronic communication. Without the written confirmation the service provider is not allowed to send any communication on the basis of a verbal consent.
Even where the subscriber has given a written consent, the code says third party messages should be sent only once in a month and educational/network commercial messages directly from telcos should be sent not more than three times a month.
The code also seeks to cure the problem with determining messages coming directly from telcos and messages coming from third parties; so it insists on those sending the messages to provide their full identity as part of the message.
The new code also seek to address the issue of how telcos transfer customers’ private information to third party VAS players, some of whom are outside the country but keep bombarding phone users in Ghana with unwanted messages and voice calls.
Indeed, some telcos in Ghana have hired VAS providers in countries overseas and they have given them the details of customers in Ghana to be sending them unwanted messages and calls; some for free and some at a cost.
The new Code will therefore apply to all licensees, including telcos, telephony VAS providers and content providers, and it also captures their partners abroad, once their operation overseas is getting to local consumers.
The code is expected that adoption of this new Code will benefit consumers by establishing practices to reduce Spam volumes and also provide them with information on how to manage and deal with Spam.
The NCA also expects that the Code would actually benefit industry players by reducing Spam volumes and enhancing higher levels of customer satisfaction, as well as improve operational efficiency.
But most importantly, the code provides sanctions for any licensee or its partners that violates the provisions of the code. The sanctions are spelt out in the Electronic Transactions Act, Act 772 and the Electronic Communications Regulations L.I. 1991.
But none of those provisions in the draft code can be implemented without the input of the general public between now and January 24, 2016.
The public consultation process is therefore to allow members of the general public to write down their complaints, suggestions and contributions and send them to the NCA, via their website, www.nca.org.gh to help fashion a more consumer-friendly code.