How Telephone Companies Exploit Us (1)



mobile phonesAll telecom operators in the country have schemes for bilking Ghanaians. When I tumbled upon that of MTN as a customer, I bought GC2 worth of units for each of the other providers to research their charging regimes.

They all claim to make it easier and cheaper for their customers, only to resort to Bait and Switch, a marketing gimmick which is illegal everywhere, especially, in the advanced countries.

So far, MTN is the worst gamester. TIGO is at the other end of the spectrum, though it also bilks in its own small way. Therefore, I will start with MTN and follow it up with TIGO, before tackling Airtel, Vodafone, etc. which come in between the two.

MTN alone controls almost 47 per cent of the total market share with a customer base of 12,792,148 subscribers out of a total of 27,244,579. Therefore, MTN is easily the giant of the telecommunication industry in Ghana. Vodafone which is a distant second has only about 21 per cent of the market, not even half of MTN’s enviable market share.

Bait and Switch
Bait and Switch is a selling method in marketing where advertisements for low-priced products are used to attract customers, who are then deceptively persuaded to buy something more expensive. Departmental stores are the worst offenders. The rationale for doing that is to get traffic into the store so as to increase sale. Once you are in the store, chances are that you will spot merchandise that you really need or want.

To check Bait and Switch, the business law of Offer and Acceptance is applied. Once the customer comes to the store because of the advertisement, he/she has accepted the offered price. And the item has to be sold to him/her at the offered price. Without this law, stores can always abuse the public.

If you are an MTN customer, chances are that you are being bilked without knowing, and you will never know it until you pay attention to the way you are charged.

When I saw it, I wrote to MTN, asking them to refund the overcharges and make the same restitution to all Ghanaians. Adamant, the company dug in, pointing out what I had not done to benefit from their promotions offering low charges. They really gave me a harangue in the “buyer-beware” theory. Consequently, I bought GC10 worth of units to investigate their charging scheme thoroughly. And I can now say confidently that MTN has bilked Ghanaians in the millions. And the milking process continues.

Occasionally, the National Communications Authority steps in to slap operators with a fine for one infringement or the other. Nonetheless, financial penalties can never affect a company like the MTN in view of what I have discovered.

I will start with my complaints to MTN and their responses, explaining issues as I go along. My first complaint was sent via the Internet for the attention of the CEO in March, 2013. In that correspondence, I stated, among others, as follow:

Several years back, amid great fanfare and so much publicity, MTN offered its customers free calls after midnight up to 5am. After a while, they started charging half pesewa (0.5 p) per minute without publicizing it first. This time around, they were not consistent with the time frame. Sometimes, it was flashed on phone screens well after midnight. And it can end anytime after 5 am, sometimes extending it all the way through to 5:30, 5:45 … or to even 6:30 am and beyond.

During the day, they would flash on the screen an outrageously reduced rate. But the low price promotion kept changing in minutes and seconds. In fact, it was always kept in a state of flux. This is not for nothing, as you will see later on.

In addition to this, there were other baits that helped them to build up a formidable customer base.
For the past two years, I had observed that when I called based on the charge 0.5p/minute, I was charged at a far higher rate.
On March 15, 2013, I made two calls between 5 and 5:30 am, writing down the cash balance, together with the duration of each call. The first call lasted 11:06 minutes.

Based on the rate at which I called (0.5p/min), it should cost less than (or at most) six pesewas. But when I checked, the cash balance of GC2.09 had changed to GC1.65, meaning I was charged 34 pesewas! 28 pesewas is unearned and illegal! That is, over 82 per cent of the charge is downright robbery!

With the screen still flashing 0.5p/min, I made another call, which lasted 1:04 minutes. This call should cost less than (or at most) one (1) pesewa. However, when I checked, my balance of GC1.65 had reduced to GC1.61, meaning I was charged four pesewas! Three pesewas is unearned and illegal! That is, over 75% of the charge is robbery!

Armed with this hard evidence, I went to their nearest office to complain. One of the company’s representatives explained that the rate could change while the customer was talking. So, that was what might have happened. Do you now see the rationale behind keeping the promotion price changing every few minutes? And, once you are on the phone, there is no way they can notify you of any price change for you to accept or reject, making any change illegal.

I explained to her that I accepted to call based on the charge offered. Therefore, if the offer changed, it could not affect me or any other customer who also called. And to say the least, I felt insulted by that explanation as I realized MTN has come from a developed country only to further impoverish Ghanaians.

Financial analysis
Let us analyze the scenario above. Everyone makes several calls during the day. But for the sake of simplicity and conservatism, let us assume that everyone makes just one call lasting 11.06 minutes a day and is robbed only 28 pesewas like the call I made above on 15 March, 2013. Now, multiply 28 pesewas by the MTN customer base of 12,792,148. That produces GC3,581,801 (0.28 X 12,792,148). And that is for just one day!

An overcharged amount is unearned money. In fact, it is theft! An armed robber is arrested, but the one sitting in the office and stealing from the masses is left free. The Ghanaian is so much caught up in political bickering that we have left ourselves open for the neo-colonialist to make a fodder out of us.

Personally, I have problems with big multi-national corporations taking their huge profits out of poor countries. If the money they take out were available and reinvested, it would develop the economies of the poor countries. And now, it is not just their monstrous profits that are being taken out. MTN is ripping off poor Ghanaians and taking that portion out, too! And the portion of their profit coming out of the theft is huge. In the scenario above, it constitutes a whopping 82 per cent! On this score, MTN should be booted out of Ghana!

Text messages
MTN’s text message facility, however, served me well. After sending a short message to another MTN user, I checked and found that two pesewas had been charged immediately. And the message had also been received immediately. That was perfect!

(The first part of this article was published on …)
But from January 2013, when I sent a message, though I had been charged immediately, the message had not been received immediately. Sometimes, the message was not received at all. This usually caused me to make an unnecessary follow up with a telephone call at an added cost. Then after that, when the text message is useless, the message is sent, sometimes more than an hour later or not at all. MTN should not charge in such a situation. Whatever amount charged here is unearned and illegal.

On Sunday, 24 March, 2013, my MTN phone screen flashed 0.5 pesewas/minute after 2 am all through to 7:20 am when I stopped monitoring.

I made a call at about 6:30 am to (054) 787-4473. I forgot to monitor it for charge. So, I intentionally made another call to (024) 199-9551 for 1.56 minutes.

At a charge of 0.5p/minute, the call should cost at most one (1) pesewa. With an initial cash balance of GC0.40, after the call, my cash balance read GC0.33, meaning I was charged seven (7) pesewas. Instead of one (1) pesewa, I had been charged a multiple of seven times that amount! That is, 86% of the charge is unearned and illegal!

In my letter to the company, I informed them that it was to enable them to verify the complaint that I had properly and meticulously kept all the details. However, instead of refunding the illicit overcharges, they rather gave me a technical mumbo-jumbo:

“Kindly be informed that from our investigations, you are currently on MTN So Cool Call plan. But then, you still see the percentage discounts displayed on your phone because your Cell Broadcast Information is still on but the MTN Zone discount rates do not apply. As such, you were accurately charged for the calls.”

When I asked how to benefit from the promotion, I was asked to type in a code. This important code is made up of seven digits. But the “very competent” secretary gave me a nine-digit code: **135*1#*.
For two weeks, I tried it getting different responses. At last, I called and paid for the call. At that point, I was given the correct seven-digit code: *135*1#. It worked!

As recently as Sunday, 22 September, 2013, I continued to monitor the charges. I made a call to (024)337-3602 at 6:08 a.m. when the screen was flashing the promotion of 0.5 pesewas/minute. The call took 63 seconds. My balance in units was GC5.40. After the call, it read GC5.30, meaning I was charged 10 pesewas, instead of one (1) pesewa, at most! That is, I was overcharged by over 90%.
Switch to percentages

Quoting the reduced rates in pesewas made it easy to follow how you are charged. Therefore, they decided to make it more complex. This time, they use percentages. Example: 40% discount, 60% discount, etc.

If you are given 40% discount, it means you will be charged 60%. But 60% of what? They intentionally omit the base. When I pressed them, they shocked me with 16 pesewas/minute! If one call is 16 pesewas/minute, this is a material fact and customers should know it. Yet, it is withheld.

Using 16 pesewas/minute as the base, I made a few calls to verify the discount as follows:
(1) On Thursday, 1/8/13, I made a call to (024) 411-7751 at about 5.35 am. The discount was 95% and the call lasted for about 50 seconds before it disconnected by itself.

Figured at 16 pesewas per minute, the call should cost 0.67 pesewas (16 x 0.05 x 50/60). I hope you understand that 0.67 pesewa is less than one pesewa.

I had units of C3.21 on my card. After the call, I had C3.16, meaning I was charged five (5) pesewas. This is outrageous because five (5) pesewas is about eight (8) times the true cost of the call (0.67 pesewa).

I implored MTN to make their own analysis to verify the above, having painstakingly provided them with every minute detail to enable them to track the calls.

On Friday, 2/8/13, I made a call to (024) 160-0606 at about 7:49 pm. The discount was 40% and the call lasted for about 1:31 minutes before it got disconnected by itself, as happens to me all the time.

At 16 pesewas per minute, the charge for the call above comes to about 14.56 pesewas (16 x 0.6 x 91/60).
I had C12.90 of units on my chip. At the end of the call, the balance read C12.76. That means I was charged 14 pesewas.
That is a correct charge based on their 16 pesewas per minute cost. That means, even at the 40% discount, the charge per minute is about 9.6 pesewas (16 X 0.60)!

Compare this to TIGO which charges three (3) pesewas per minute. And because TIGO has nothing to hide, after every call, automatically a short USEFUL message appears on your screen, giving you the call duration, and the charge based on the promised three (3) pesewas per minute. Then TIGO tells you the ending balance in units. About 99 per cent of the time, their figures are correct.

If MTN flashes such End of Call Notification, customers will see that they are being bilked. Therefore, they never do that. When I asked for why they do not do that, they gave me a white lie: “We were doing it before. But customers started complaining that we waste their time with such messages. So, we scrapped it.”

I have been a customer since they came into existence and have never received such a message. Frustration galore
In my dealings with MTN, most of the calls were initiated from their end. But sometimes, it became necessary that I called. I sent them the following note via the Internet:

I refer to your conversation with me following my complaint on MTN’s Bait and Switch tactics.
When you called, I asked for a number at which to reach you as I was going to investigate what you told me. Instead of providing me with a direct number, you rather gave me 111. However, each time that I called, I encountered an interactive facility, where, at length, I have had to press the star button so that someone might assist by directing the call to you. But no one ever came on the line. For several weeks, I tried it to see if I would be lucky one day. But it was always the same.

Consequently, I went to the nearest branch on 1/8/13 for assistance on how to get to you. Here, I encountered a representative who wasted my precious time. When I thought she was investigating the problem, she was rather doing something else. After about 30 minutes, I was forced to ask her what was happening. At that point, she suddenly gave me a number on which to call you: (024) 430-0000.

But for over two weeks, I dialed that number only to run into an interactive process on a machine. After wasting a lot of time going through the prompts, it got to a point where I had to press the star button for someone to direct the call to you. Unfortunately, at that point, the call always got disconnected after waiting for few seconds. For about two weeks, each time, I was charged. The total amount of money lost is C6.40. I demand an immediate refund.

I never heard from MTN anymore! The author is journalist. His Email: rodger210@fastmail.fm.   By Rodger Agyin

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