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GSM ring tunes tariffs: Are they legal?

By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor

Dear Subscriber, your bi-monthly ring tunes tariff of fifty naira has been deducted from your account. Thanks for staying with us. ……………..’

When I received this text message out of the blue, many months ago, my reaction was to send a reply immediately.

‘Sir/Madam, Sorry, I don’t understand.  What ring tune am I supposed to subscribe to?  I’ve never asked to subscribe to any ring tune.  If you’re assuming that I would want to subscribe, sorry, I don’t want to.  Please return the said sum of fifty naira back into my account at once. Thanks.’  I didn’t get any reply to my text, and the sum continued to be deducted.

At the time of my reply, I didn’t know that the text I received was an automatically generated mail, to which no replies are sent.  I thought I was dealing person to person.   It was later, after several months of monthly protests from me, to no avail,  that someone who works for a telecomms company, explained the procedure to me.

“Madam, you must have asked to subscribe to a particular ring tune,” said this neighbour .  “No  gsm company will just start deducting money from your account without providing you with the stated service.”

“But there’s no evidence that I’m availing myself of the service,” I told her.

“There must be, madam.  Here, give me your number and I’ll call it. You take my phone and listen to the response from calling your number.”

I was very surprised when a call made to my phone was received with a popular tune.  I  never ordered it.
No caller of that my line had ever told me that they got that tune before I took their calls.  How did it happen?

“Madam, I think what happened was that when you called a number, you got this tune, and afterwards, before the person’s voice came on, you were asked to press * or # or something. You must have followed the instructions.  That meant, you liked the tune and asked to subscribe to it. Does the phone of anyone you call answer with this tune?”

“Yes, several.  It’s a popular tune that I like, but I never asked to subscribe to it.  It’s a mystery.  ”
I went down memory lane, and remembered that there was a day I was frantically trying to reach a number which responded  with that tune, but when the song ended, the line would cut off. ‘Number unreachable’ I was told.  At last, after several tries, and several doses of the song, I was told ‘press this, press that’.

Out of desperation I did as I was told, thinking that would give me access to the number.  It didn’t and I gave up. It was shortly afterwards, that I began receiving the texts messages telling me of the bi-monthly deductions.

“Madam, the mystery is solved,” said my neighbour. “You subscribed when you obeyed and pressed ‘this’ and ‘that’.”

I thanked her for her help, but I wondered if my service provider, before starting to make deductions from my account,  shouldn’t have sent me a text asking me to confirm that I have subscribed to that ring tune, and telling me what the tariff would be.

A monthly deduction of a hundred naira from one’s account is not a fortune, but one wonders if there isn’t an infringement on one’s rights somewhere?  Are these deductions and their methods approved by the NCC?

It is important that the consumer understands and approves what he/she is paying for.  To ensure this, there should be adequate communication of the modalities to him/her, when a service is requested for.

In the case stated above, I should have been made to know that I made such a request, and then be asked to confirm it.  It is only then that the said request would be carried out.  This makes sense, and assures the consumer that there’s no rip off.

After all, in an action which may not carry a financial risk like when you press ‘delete’ on your computer or even on your mobile phone, you’re asked to confirm it, before your instruction is carried out.  I’ve on many occasions changed my mind on what I wanted deleted.

Think of how many people out there are subscribing to telecomms services they don’t know about!
Right now, there’s fierce competition among the various telecoms companies in the country.  They’re offering services with attractive tariffs so that they can be favoured aboved other service-providers, and patronized.

But are they really reducing their tariffs?  What evidence is there that the calls we’re making are actually cheaper than before?  I must admit that I’m one of those who forget to check their balance after making calls, so, I can’t personally say that I’m better off with all these promos, than before.

Last year, a popular telecomms company advertised a world roamer, with a dual sims phone; a gsm and their own brand. A business woman friend of mine and I went to make enquiries at a branch.  We were  told  the phone was available for a total sum of 17,000.00 naira.

The dual sims phone itself is N10,000, registration is N2,000, and you buy N5,000 recharge card for it.  The pack contained the company’s own ordinary sim card, a world roamer CDMA sim card, a phone, ear phone and their normal brochure, which didn’t have any information on the world roamer. You use a gsm sim of your choice.

So, how does it function?  You put your gsm sim card in the slot allocated for it, and you put the company’s normal sim card in the other slot.  With these two, you make calls  within the country. When you’re outside the country, you remove the company’s ordinary sim card and insert the world roamer.  How are we sure that the roamer would work outside the country?

We were assured it would work in any part of the world, except in North and South Americas.  My friend told them she was going to Asia.  They assured her that it works there; after all, Asians run the company.   It all  seemed easy to us, and since this was a reputable company, we believed.

My friend  travelled to Asia.  She couldn’t make calls as she had been told. She rented a sim card over there and phoned me frantically that I should go tell the telecomms company that the world roamer didn’t work.  I duly went there and explained to them.

I was told she should put the world roamer in the gsm slot.  I got her on the phone right there, and she spoke with them. ‘Put the CDMA card here, put it there’ she was told several times.  It didn’t work. When she returned home,  we both went to the them to lodge a complaint that they shouldn’t put out a service that has not been well-tested and proved effective.

Unconvincingly, they told us that some of their customers had successfully used that world roamer outside the country.  Where?  In Ghana, they told us.  Ha! Ha! Don’t our ordinary gsm phones normally work in Ghana and some other parts of Africa?

The staff were so polite and apologetic that my friend didn’t want to pursue the complaint.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.