Telecom companies have received several warnings, a temporary ban from the regulator and customer complaints over unsolicited messages. For one customer, Peter Magelah Gwayaka, this has not been effective. He has opted to sue Uganda’s largest telecom company, MTN for sending text messages he had not requested for or subscribed too.
The civil suit was filed on 8th July 2014 in the High Court Nakawa.
Magelah, represented by the Center for Legal Aid Uganda, in the suit accuses MTN Uganda of “willfully or recklessly” sending unsolicited messages even after he complained to the company. MTN Uganda is also accused of disregarding the law by constantly sending these messages to a customer, which in the suit is described as interference in private means of communications. This has been described as being in “breach of constitutional and statutory duty.”
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) in June 2014 issued a temporary ban on promotional text messages by telecom companies. The fine print of that ban is mainly on promotions requesting customers to subscribe for services, free airtime, free calls and bonus airtime among others.
UCC said it had placed this ban because telecom companies were failing to deliver on quality of service, as required by the regulator. UCC’s action was also as a result of the customer complaints.
However, UCC did not ban are other text messages mainly provided by third party companies.
Customers are still complaining even after the ban. In the suit, Magelah claims that reading these messages wastes his time, drains his phone battery, congests his inbox and sometimes he incurs the cost. There is also a claim that he has suffered from “anger, anxiety, annoyance, illness, mental distress and inconvenience among other troubles.”
In June 2014, five customers sued telecom companies and UCC over poor quality of service and unsolicited messages. However, using Section 29 of the Electronic Transactions Act 2011, the telecoms have had a clear line of defense. The section states that a “service provider shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability in respect of third-party material which is in the form of electronic records to which he or she merely provides access.” In this current suit, however, all the messages indicated all came from the service provider, MTN Uganda.
The suit is also based on unprecedented evidence obtained using social media site, Twitter. Various message exchanges between MTNUgandaCare – the official Twitter account of MTN Uganda – and Peter Magelah are indicated the suit.
UCC has never imposed any financial penalty or revoked a license of a telecom for poor services. For the last two years, UCC has been waiting for approval for guidelines on fines and penalties.
MTN Uganda has been given 15days to have filed a response to the suit. It was not available for a comment on whether they were working on a response.