Is Safaricom short-changing its customers?

Friday May 16 2014

Safaricom limited Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore (left) and Chief Financial Officer John Tombleson during the announcement the Half Year Results for 2013/2014 at the Safaricom House in Nairobi on November 5, 2013. The company announced a profit gain of 45% in the financial year. PHOTO/SALATON NJAU

Safaricom limited Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore (left) and Chief Financial Officer John Tombleson during the announcement the Half Year Results for 2013/2014 at the Safaricom House in Nairobi on November 5, 2013. The company announced a profit gain of 45% in the financial year. PHOTO/SALATON NJAU 

By Abdiwahid Biriq
More by this Author

Safaricom is undoubtedly the most successful company in Kenya, a phenomenal brand by any standard.

Kenyans are accustomed to its green and red ring of confidence and to its omnipresence. It is the largest company in East and Central Africa and the biggest contributor to the national coffers.

Its “niko na Safaricom’ adverts are generally patriotic, showing the sights and sounds of Kenya — though unrepresentative of the faces of Kenya.

Its innovations such as the mobile money service M-Pesa have placed the country in the league of the top innovators in mobile telephony.

However, the “better option” is anything but that. Making a simple phone call has become something akin to a lottery, a challenge.

Mobile users have become accustomed to high call charges, poor network connectivity and voice quality. The services are unreliable and unpredictable. Phones behave as if they are switched off or engaged when they are not.

The most common words you are likely to hear when making and receiving calls, which has become part of our vocabulary, are “sorry, network problem, or wrong number.”

BILLED FOR YOUR TROUBLES

When you make a call, it drops or goes to a wrong number or straight to a voicemail.

Every Kenyan must have experienced problems with mobile phone reception. Either there is no mobile signal, or where there is, it is not possible to connect or sustain a call.

Most users will say they have experienced dropped calls, incomprehensible speech and a voice quality that mimics speaking from the bottom of a water tank.

It is common to call a regular number like that of your wife, husband or business partner but the call is misdirected to a stranger.

Your call goes through but the receiver cannot hear you or they can hear but you cannot. You are billed for your troubles.

The ability to make or receive calls or texts is the most important aspect of mobile phone reception. But is Safaricom making supernormal profit by cutting corners, compromising quality, charging calls it ought not to?

How does it explain the routine calls break-ups, glitches or misconnections, misdirection of calls, the inability of the users to sustain conversation for more than five minutes?

It cannot be explained why every call you make is likely to result in a drop call, disconnection, misconnection, or it's of poor sound quality, breaks up or ends unexpectedly.

Safaricom will still charge you for a service it did not provide. Mind you, for every 10 mobile users eight are Safaricom’s. I am yet to hear of any Safaricom loyalist like myself ever being refunded.

The level of dissatisfaction is so high that there would have been a mass exodus of mobile users if there was an alternative network with a similar brand awareness and coverage.

MONOPOLY PROBLEM

Mobile users would generally switch networks depending on the voice quality, connection, coverage, ability to make or receive calls easily, reasonable charges, clarity in billing, flexibility of schemes and easy accessibility of the service provider’s customer care services.

Safaricom has a duty to provide its customers with a reliable and working network. It ought to invest in network system. It has an absolute monopoly and that is where the problem lies.

Due to the absence of vital competition in the market, Safaricom has failed to upgrade its network or manage traffic congestion.

Traffic management is a tool to effectively protect the security and integrity of networks and restrict the transmission to end-users of unsolicited communication. It ought to increase its capacity concurrently with demand on its services.

It has to tackle network congestion and prioritize traffic to avoid overload. Safaricom makes phenomenal profits and does not lack the capital to invest in upgrading the system.

It announced this week that it has made a net profit of over Sh23 billion for the financial year ending March 2014.

The Communications Authority of Kenya should not allow such deterioration of service. It should require Safaricom to invest a certain percentage of its profit in improving the network.

It should renew its licence subject to guarantees of improved services. The size of Safaricom would intimidate any regulator. It shouldn’t if you stick to the law.

The author is a lawyer and a partner at the firm of Sagana, Biriq & Company Advocates. [email protected]