AS the observance of another World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) on March 15 looms, the theme for this international event as proclaimed by Consumers international (CI) is: “Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer”. Certainly, it’s a perfect opportunity for consumers to bind together in their quest for fairer marketplaces, more reliable and uninterrupted services.
This year’s theme is a sequel to last year’s which called for: “Consumer Rights in the Digital Age.”
In our “Fair Helen – St. Lucia”, the proliferation of queries, concerns and questions that consumers have as it relates to the various aspects of the technological age are more than enough to cover the ocean.
In 2003, the biggest public protests that the National Consumers Association (NCA) ever organized was against the sole telecommunications provider; back then was called Cable and Wireless (C&W).
These demonstrations in Castries and Vieux Fort came on the heels of the revolutionized digital age under the presidency of Mr. Andrew Antoine; and they were welcomed and well attended by consumers who turned out in their hundreds.
Being so dissatisfied and incensed about the rates and service provided by the aforementioned provider, consumers via placard belted out their frustrations thus: “We Have The Right To Choose, C&W In Hot Bakes and Cocoa-tea With The NCA, We Telling You Straight We Eh Taking Dat, There’s A Real World Out There, C&W Have Pity On The Poor Pensioners!” among others. Source: Thursday February 13th, 2003 edition of the VOICE newspaper.
The NCA’s public awareness campaign continued in 2003, where Mr. Antoine asserted his organization’s concerns: “the new rates which the telecommunications company had published in the local media, were being introduced contrary to an existing agreement between C&W and member states of the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL).” Source: Caribbean Media Centre (CMC) News.
Whilst perusing the Revised Telecommunications Act of 2000 (Chapter 8.11), under interpretation, observe the following provisions:
(c) the operation of a universal service regime so as to ensure the widest possible access to telecommunications at an affordable rate by the people of Saint Lucia in order to enable them to share in the freedom to communicate over an efficient and modern telecommunications network;
(d) fair pricing and the use of cost-based pricing methods by telecommunications providers in Saint Lucia;
(e) fair competition practices by telecommunications providers;
(f) the introduction of advanced telecommunications technologies and an increased range of services;
(h) the application of appropriate standards in the operation of telecommunications;
(i) the overall development of telecommunications in the interest of the sustainable development of Saint Lucia.
In 2002, the emergence of other providers in the market was not without an uphill battle with this monopolistic provider. Nevertheless, they were received with open arms and consumers breathed a sigh of relief. By then, the affordable prices, rates and reliable services in the market enabled a host of consumers to acquire sophisticated handsets that they never ever dreamt of owning; in addition to signing up for other digital services.
Indeed, the acquisition of the other providers by this particular provider has again placed consumers at the mercy of this gigantic provider, which now bears or carries a new name – FLOW.
In light of these recent local developments, coupled with CI’s crusade for fairer digital marketplaces and the tons of dis-satisfied customers, consumers may very well have to use the same route which was led by the NCA in 2003 to vent their numerous queries, concerns and questions. These problems and qualms of consumers have inhibited good relations between customers and this provider for some time now.
Question: With all the various apps at the disposal of customers in some instances for free, which this provider has expressed its disapproval with, who are the axis on which businesses evolve and without whom there will be no businesses, why on earth can’t our present provider listen to consumers and provide a more reasonable, efficient and reliable service – why?
Another question arises as to whether the acquisition of the other providers by this provider was designed to control and hog the entire market, more so the Internet and Cable TV?
Further, would it be far-fetched to think that this provider has bitten more than it can chew; and that it’s now pregnant with too many customers and cannot deliver an efficient and satisfactory service as a result of its own doings?
One may very well come to the conclusion that given that this provider has most of the customers in this industry (telecommunications), its various platforms are oversubscribed and clogged up; and that this may very well be the crux of slow internet service, signal-less and stuck channels, frequent interruptions of mobile and landline phone conversations to name a few.
As consumers continue to pay for these constant daily hitches with no redress in sight, all they are consistently being told by this sole provider is that the problems will be rectified but to no avail up to this day. “Oh dear, oh dear what can the matter be?”
The adage “Nero fiddles while Rome burned” immediately sprung to mind in this given protracted situation between this one and only provider on the island and consumers.
Consumers – Take Charge! Take Charge Consumers – Take Charge!