Updated at 9:30am on Jan. 8 to include comments from ictQatar.
Qatar’s telecommunications regulator is set to enact a new consumer protection policy to help consumers navigate internet and mobile services here and hold providers more accountable for their offerings.
But it has dropped a few key provisions from the policy that would have enabled easier comparisons of different service packages.
Earlier this week, ictQatar published a 29-page Telecommunications Consumer Protection Policy, which contains rules on advertising, minimum contractual provisions and mechanisms to resolve disputes between customers and telecom service providers, among other policies.
Speaking to journalists yesterday, ictQatar’s head of Governmental and Consumer Affairs Dr. Eiman al Ansari said the policy, which will take effect in three months, was drafted amid a rising number of complaints regarding telecom services here.
Qatar Tribune reports her as adding:
“Among 6,000 complaining calls on telecom services received in the last two years, only 858 complaints and inquiries were classified as valid. In 2013, the number of valid complaints increased to 440 from 227 in 2012.”
The document published yesterday is largely the same as a draft policy that was circulated for feedback last fall, with the exception of a pair of clauses that would have forced service providers to create one-page summaries of each of their retail offers.
The purpose of those clauses was to “reduce customer confusion” by enabling consumers to easily compare different service packages. It would have contained information such as recurring service charges, termination fees, the number of airtime minutes, text messages and other services included in the package, as well as any one-off fees that would be incurred by the customer.
However, ictQatar spokesperson Eiman Al-Ansari said in a written response to questions that it became apparent during the feedback process that a one-page summary of all offers would not be feasible and would duplicate existing requirements for service providers:
“It will be more confusing and misleading to the consumers to have such a short summarized version. The service operators are already obligated to include all the requirements stated in this clause clearly under the Retail Tariff Instructions.”
Improving customer service
As in other countries, gripes about the quality and prices of phone and internet services are common among Qatar residents. In 2011, outraged consumers called for a boycott of Qtel (now Ooredoo) in an effort to push the telecom firm to improve service and lower prices.
As part of its preamble to last fall’s draft policy, ictQatar said greater competition is the best way to protect consumers’ interests:
“Free consumer choice is a more effective, more efficient, and more flexible sanction for poor operator performance than regulatory intervention. Active competition between providers to attract and retain customers is the best way to ensure that the market continues to provide quality products and services at prices customers are willing to pay.”
While government authorities have a vision of enabling greater consumer choice in Qatar’s internet market, ictQatar concedes that there is a “lack of competition” in the telecom services market here, which is home only to Ooredoo and Vodafone, heightening the need to establish clear rules to protect customers.
Some of the new rules mandate that service providers must:
- Inform customers at least one billing period in advance of any changes in recurring charges and advertise the increase in local English and Arabic papers, as well as via text message in the case of mobile services;
- Explicitly agree to a credit limit with customers and then notify clients when they’ve used 80 and 100 percent of their credit limit;
- Provide customers with clear contractual terms. This includes the cost of the service, a description of the commitment period, charges for terminating the contract and details of the minimum service quality standards;
- Not impose contractual terms that act as a disincentive for customers wanting to change service providers;
- Have a written complaints code that outlines the process for lodging grievances and the steps the service provider will take to address the issue within a given timeframe;
- Provide refunds when it fails to meet its contractual obligations or when customers paid for services that were not provided or had not been requested. Refunds must also be issued when the quality of the service delivered “falls materially short of what would reasonably be expected”;
- Give customers at least two days’ notice before disconnecting services for non-payment, and not interrupt service if the customer has lodged a complaint about disputed charges.
The consumer protection policy also outlines a dispute resolution service offered by ictQatar in cases where customers are unsatisfied with their service provider’s response to their complaint.
The policy will be reviewed every two years.