By Kingsley Alu,Abuja
The Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has issued a final order on tariff review to MultiChoice Nigeria Limited. The latest order primarily focused on the company’s increased subscription rates to its cable television services.
A statement signed by the director-general of the Commission, Mr Babatunde Irukera, yesterday, in Abuja, noted that on June 17, 2018, the Consumer Protection Council, (Now Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission; FCCPC) filed an action against MultiChoice before the federal high court in Abuja.
It disclosed that essentially, the case was necessitated because MultiChoice acted in bad faith in preempting the FCCPC after a broad investigation, and a proposed mutually agreed Consent Order.
The statement said the Order addressed broad consumer protection and service responsiveness/quality issues that were lacking and had become the subject of incessant complaints by consumers.
“ A key mutual understanding in the jointly agreed Consent Order was that no material terms of the subscription agreement between MultiChoice and its subscribers would change during an agreed period of supervision by FCCPC, to ensure that the crucial issues in repeated complaints, and that were covered by the Consent Order were sufficiently addressed under the existing terms and rubric of expectations by consumers,” it pointed out.
However, it was noted that instead of abiding by that understanding and executing the Consent Order at the proposed time agreed, MultiChoice rather increased subscription rates in preemption to executing the Consent Order.
The statement said the FCCPC considering this a demonstration of bad faith engaged MultiChoice unsuccessfully, and as such, ultimately filed an action to enjoin MultiChoice to return to honouring the mutual understandings with the Commission, and subject itself to the authority and jurisdiction of the FCCPC.
“The court granted interim injunctive relief prohibiting MultiChoice from proceeding with the conduct that the Commission alleged constituted bad faith. MultiChoice failed to obey the injunctive order of the court, preferring instead to challenge the validity and proprietary of the order and powers of the court. The court order became the subject of appeal to the Court of Appeal,” it explained.
It however observed that considering that consumers were not receiving the benefits of the proposed modification of MultiChoice’s approach to consumer protection while the case remained pending, the Commission after broad legal consultation and interpretation of the law decided to proceed with entering an order against MultiChoice anyway.
“Although, the possibility of resistance and argument by MultiChoice that the entire subject matter was subjudice, and the Commission unable to proceed or enforce any such order existed, the Commission sufficiently believed there was adequate legal authority to still modify MultiChoice’s conduct while the case remained pending in court,” it stated, noting that on January 25, 2019, the Commission entered a Final Order against MultiChoice.
The statement said the directives in the Final Order were no longer a matter of consent or mutual agreement with MultiChoice, stressing that they were directives, the compliance to which the Commission believes it was capable of legally enforcing.
Specifically, the Commission ordered that:
MultiChoice shall, subject to prevailing regulatory and telecommunications industry practices and constraints, commence toll free technical and customer service helplines, including inter-network.
The company shall also operate fully resourced call centers 24 hours, and 7 days a week, including public holidays and shall develop and publish a clear complaints resolution process describing the process for receiving, addressing and resolving complaints.
In addition also, the company is to include an appeal and escalation process as well as timelines and is expected to clarify and expressly state in its compensation policy that subscribers would be compensated for the inconveniences experienced in addition to the compensation for disruption of services resulting from failed, faulty, poor, or unprofessional installation by its agents.
The Final Order also demands that MultiChoice shall create multiple and additional social media platforms where subscribers can easily upload proof of payment when service is not restored immediately after payment, this is also in addition to providing subscribers the option of periodically suspending subscription no less than three times annually for up to 14 days in each instance.
MultiChoice was also asked to ensure that all subscribers have free and automatic access to the prevailing selected local free-to-air channels, in addition to also The carrying out periodic customer sensitisation about changes made pursuant to the Commission’s Orders during the monitoring period and in a manner that adequately satisfies a reasonable and measurable degree of subscriber awareness;
The statement said MultiChoice shall be under the Commission’s monitoring for a period of 12 months of this Order and shall provide prior notice of proposed changes or modifications of material terms and conditions of service that are the subject of this Order.
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