12:00 AM, July 16, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:07 AM, July 16, 2018

Too many offers baffle mobile users

Regulator steps in to curtail packages, ease conditions

The telecom regulator has stepped in to protect customers by way of stopping mobile phone operators from confusing subscribers with hundreds of voice and data offers.

In some cases, customers cannot opt out from a package they would like to discontinue. Customers are also charged through automatic renewals without taking their consent.

This prompted the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to begin evaluating the issue and take stern action, said an official of the regulator.

“I will personally go through all the terms and conditions of the packages before approving them anew,” said Telecom and ICT Minister Mustafa Jabbar.

Top three operators have a combined 400 offers and packages deemed too many for customers to choose the best one.

Market leader Grameenphone is offering 102 data and voice packages to its 6.86 crore active users, according to the BTRC.

The merged entity of Robi and Airtel offers 258 packages to 4.50 crore subscribers.

However, Robi said the number of the package numbers of the merged entity stands at 139 at the moment.

The second largest operator said there are some offers, which are not marketed by Robi and subscribers do not buy them. But these products might be in the regulator's findings, it said. 

Banglalink has 76 data and voice offers and state-owned Teletalk is offering 42 packages, said a senior official of the telecom watchdog.

Jabbar said the government is very determined about bringing down the number of packages to about 35 per operator.

“My position is very straightforward: I want a very clear-cut package offer and it should be implemented within a short time,” he told The Daily Star.

Even if the number of packages is brought down, the packages may come with hidden conditions, for which the unaware customers have to bear extra charges, said Jabbar.

Multiple conditions in a package often confuse customers, making it difficult for them to decide whether they will opt in or opt out, said a BTRC official.

He said the BTRC has observed that customers' consent is not taken sometimes in case of auto-renewal of a package although the operators cannot do so as per the regulator's rules. Auto-renewals also charge customers a lot.

However, operators said the number of offers shouldn't be limited as it might deprive customers of choosing the best one.

If the gap between on-net (same network) and off-net (different network) charges is removed, the packages will be simplified and their number will go down, they said.

The regulator should not focus on the number of packages; rather it should focus on the simplification of the packages, said Shahed Alam, executive vice president and head of regulatory affairs at Robi.

“If a proper regulation on data is enacted and the gap between on-net and off-net charges is removed, the package number will decline overnight.”

A senior executive of a mobile phone operator said reducing the number of packages is not the practical way to regulate and will not be a customer-centric guideline.

“We will not be able to offer the best products if there is any bar and if there is no flexibility in packages,” the executive said, requesting anonymity.

Customers who feel cheated about an offer may lodge a complaint with the BTRC although the dispute resolution process is very lengthy.

Some customers earlier went to the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) after being cheated by the operators through hidden conditions.

The DNCRP also fined the top three operators for the deceptive offers.

Mohammad Rubel Mia, a subscriber who had won compensation from an operator following a verdict by the DNCRP, said he had purchased an “unlimited” internet package -- 6GB in 3G service and 10GB in 2G -- from a mobile phone operator, he could not use the 2G data.

“This is a direct cheating with customers and the regulator should take strict measures,” said Mia.

As of May, there are 15.07 crore active mobile connections in Bangladesh. Of them, 8.11 crore have internet connections, according to the BTRC.