Calls for ICT consumer watchdog in Uganda grow

As Uganda's ICT sector advances, calls for a consumer rights watchdog are growing louder.

"Many people have said that we don't have a consumer movement in Uganda," said Elisha Wasukira of I-Network Uganda at a monthly meeting called by the organization to discuss broadband connectivity in Uganda. "Perhaps it is time we begin to think about a consumer rights organization that will address all these concerns and also play the key role of influencing policy."

Wire Lunghabo James, an ICT consultant with Linux Solutions Uganda, concurred with Wasukira and added that the consumer body in question must be a vibrant one that will be capable of safeguarding the interests of the consumer.

"If we don't get one, then we shall fall victim to the whims of the service providers, and just like experience has shown, Uganda Communications Commission seems to not have the free reign to make decisions that are consumer friendly," James said in an interview.

For some time now, consumers of ICT services and products have found the I-Network list serve to be a powerful platform for expressing dissatisfaction -- an indication that there is need for an independent watchdog to help address all consumer-related matters, said Reinier Battenberg, director Mountbatten, an ICT services and consultancy firm.

"I think that I-Network could be a very good starting point for such an organization. It would not be a bad a idea to formalize that influence," Battenberg noted.

"You can see how complaints on the I-Network mailing list about spam SMS has led MTN to put notices in the newspapers and institute measures aimed at controlling its content providers," James said. "This means that if we were even more organized than just a loose band of mailing list participants, we could achieve more."

A consumer watchdog would fight for the basic rights of all ICT consumers, advocate for proper service delivery and fair pricing from providers, monitor quality of service, educate members of the public about their rights as consumers, and follow up on disputes between consumers and providers, James said.

Should the calls for such a body bear fruit, James believes that service providers would no longer take customers for granted and would be forced to offer better value and technology in order to meet clients' expectations.

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