Telecommunication Companies Should Not Confuse Consumers with the Compulsory Decree Registration

16/07/2010 14:36

Vodafone Fiji Limited in today’s Fiji Times has stated that the reason for merging the M-paisa form and the form designed to facilitate the compulsory registration under the Compulsory Registration of Customers for Telephone Service Decree 2010 is to “...avoid confusion in the market...”.

Unfortunately, Vodafone Fiji Limited is abusing a simple registration process under the Decree because they have taken it upon themselves to use this compulsory registration to market their product M-paisa. However, to lump everything into one form is not acceptable. This is unethical practice where consumers have no choice but to register for M-Paisa without their willingness to do so.  Vodafone has simply proved that they are piggybacking on the Decree to get maximum mileage on its M-Paisa product. M-Paisa is a separate product and its registration should be done separately. The fear of repercussion under the Decree for fine and even conviction is forcing consumers to line outside the respective telecommunication companies or their agents, where the last thing the consumer expects is promotion of any product by that service provider.

Vodafone is not alone in its quest to exploit the opportunity to compel consumers to give additional information. TFL in its form is also seeking information such as “Do you authorize TFL to use this data for commercial or non-commercial – Yes or No” – what does this have to do with the registration under the Decree? What does “...use of ...data for commercial and non-commercial” exactly mean – could this allow TFL to upload sensitive information such as the actual photos of the customers on Data Bureau?

TFL also wants a passport photo to be attached to the registration form. Submitting a passport is not a requirement under the Compulsory Registration. There are only four principal requirements:

  1. Name and date of birth,
  2. Permanent home address
  3. Copy of valid passport, 
  4. FNPF or other photo identification

Parent or guardian’s signature if the customer is below 18 years of age.

Is it necessary to have customers provide a photo? What is the reason behind this? This may require customers to spend $5 on getting a passport size photo (not to mention transport costs and waiting at the photo studio and at TFL/agents). This would mean that consumers are incurring a cost for registering.

Apparently, the new form devised by Vodafone is yet to come into circulation, which even the Council has not been able to access in order to understand the extent of additional information sought therein. One thing that is clear from Vodafone’s response is that they appear to provide options to consumers, but consumers are questioning whether Vodafone or indeed, any other telecommunication company has the right to seek additional information that is not mandated under the Decree?

In the last few days, the Council has been inundated with consumer calls, concerns and clarification as to why Vodafone is forcing them to register using the M-Paisa form or why TFL wants a passport photo, when they merely want to comply with the minimum and compulsory requirement under the Decree, to meet compliance.

Given the level of consumer anxiety and confusion, it is now time for the State to step in to assist consumers to make informed decisions when registering under the Decree. A strong signal should be sent to all service providers of telecommunication that they must refrain from extracting any information other than the compulsory requirement under the Decree. It would be desirable to ask the companies to publish their forms in the newspaper which consumers can fill in and post or hand deliver to the companies or agents.