Users request compensation from MTN Uganda

Members of a Uganda knowledge-sharing technology online forum have asked mobile telephone company MTN Uganda to compensate customers for dropped calls, unsent SMS messages, improper billing and unreliable network coverage.

The forum has been drawing comments and complaints for a week, a true reflection of the general state of affairs, according to one members' posting.

"A lot of Ugandans face similar service problems, but they don't have the chance to voice their complaints," Wilson Abigaba wrote.

Now drawing the attention of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and MTN, the protests are running under the tagline, "MTN -- It is time to compensate customers," on an online forum managed by

i-network, a site devoted to international development issues.

"There are so many areas where the MTN coverage is very weak that it requires one to climb a tree or stand at the road side at night to make or receive a call," wrote forum member Josephine Watuulo. "The lack of coverage is still a problem in many areas, including in some buildings within Kampala, the capital city."

Moreover, MTN is dropping calls even in areas where it offers network coverage, a problem that has continued for over a year, according to poster Samuel Achota.

Another poster, Michael Niyitegeka, called the dropped calls a pain and embarrassment.

"MTN is getting to [the] level of being complacent; they used to apologize for inconveniences caused, but not any more," Niyitegeka wrote.

The company boasts a subscriber base of 2.5 million customers, and industry analysts have blamed the large number of customers for issues of quality service. Over the past two years, MTN has invested millions of dollars in network upgrades.

Many, however, have expressed disappointment at the UCC's quiet stance on quality of service by telephone and data service providers.

"The Uganda Communications Commission has the mandate and overall responsibility of ensuring that users of telecommunication services get value for money," Watuulo wrote.

The UCC has noted with concern the issues that have been raised and has requested that MTN take appropriate action, Fred Otunnu, the UCC's communication and consumer affairs manager, responded in a post. By licensing various service providers, he added, the UCC has provided consumers with choice.

"It is therefore incumbent upon potential and existing consumers to exercise their right of choice," he wrote.

With Otunnu's comments, two people wrote in suggesting the UCC introduce a "number portability" tool that would allow a consumer to move from one operator to another while retaining the same caller identification number.

After letting the debate ramble on, Erik van Veen, MTN's chief commercial officer, who is a member of the forum, finally responded, saying that MTN is always mindful of the need to continuously improve its accessibility and quality of customer service.

"Due to competitive considerations, we cannot get into details, but suffice it to say that we will offer more channels to customers to get in touch with us and have more agents to deal with customer issues in the coming weeks," van Veen wrote.

He revealed that MTN was at advanced stages of improving coverage in buildings in urban areas.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.