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After reading your piece appeared on your Society page of your January 3, 2016 edition, I wanted to write this letter. As a customer of the service provider, I am a victim whereas as a citizen, I wish and demand things within the telecom industry to improve.
Your article headlined ‘A Tale of no Competition’, did raise the concern of the majority of ethio-telecom’s customers including me. As clearly put in the article, the monopoly of the sector by one operator takes the lion’s share of the blame I also believe. I understand the fact that ethio-telecom is one of the giant state owned companies which generates more money for the state. That is one factor for the government not to liberalize the sector I think. The ‘sensitivity’ of the sector is another reason that seems to make the sector unthinkable to be opened for competition.
I am not sure whether the second factor can be a fair reason not to liberalize the sector. But regarding the first one, I argue it cannot be a reason. To have a look at researches conducted on the area is enough. Researches that ethio-telecom officials are well aware of clearly show how much money the country could generate from the sector by simply liberalizing the sector.
Some researchers predict that the country can gain more than ten folds simply from tax if it liberalizes its telecom sector. However, the government has been resistant to do so. Hence, one thing remains inevitable. It is the hefty problem we customers are encountered each day.
Last week, I recharged my account a balance of 50 ETB and gave a call for a friend. The total call history was 42 seconds. When I try another call after about five minutes, I was asked to recharge it gain. What I did during the five minutes was just to use an internet. I did not even download any video or so. I have no idea how this can be explained. I wonder if the operator can explain this.
I was also informed recently that ethio-telecom officials had to meet disappointed customers two weeks ago particularly those working on internet cafés. The meeting, which was held in Elilly International Hotel, was meant to apologize subscribers over a mistakenly collected charge. Many were really disappointed over the unusual and skyrocketed charging. Indeed, it was another headache to the internet café owners who have remained upset over the poor quality services of 3G/4G networks in the capital. Some were even on the verge of quitting the business following an alarming increase in monthly charges for the service they get. Fortunately, it was not an increase in charging. Ethio-telecom confessed that it was a mistake. The officials did also apologize the ‘inconvenience’ and promised to refund the money from the customers. Ethio-telecom collected millions of extra birr which resulted in a failure of its billing system. Those with complaints are told to call 994 and claim their money.
Personally, I appreciate the fact that ethio-telecom admitted its failure and prepared itself to return the money it collected mistakenly. This is a bit uncommon culture in our public services. But admitting failures and asking for apologies alone is not enough. The bigger picture- offering quality service with reasonable price- should in no way be forgotten.
Banks have also been among the victims of being unable to satisfy their customers because of the poor quality services from ethio-telecom. When one wants to go to a bank, he/she goes with 50/50 possibility of accessing his/her own money. “Sorry, there is no network’ is the one thing that comes to the minds of customers while thinking about collecting their own money from their bank. In addition to the internal system failures, the poor service from ethio-telecom is at the forefront of the blames. The banks have been trying to minimize their own internal problems by procuring new servers and other inputs. But they have not yet done with the external problem which is coming from the sole telecom operator of the country.
The inconvenience with ATM machines has also been common in which customers cannot rely on it. Though customers may have a share in the blame as they sometimes misuse their ATMs, the majority of the complaints are laid at the feet of ethio – telecom. All these problems are caused by the billing system problem.
There is an inspirational statement from your article that reads “bad service equals unhappy customer and unhappy customer equals a customer that moves on to bigger things. It is that simple,” I really wish. But as a telecom service user in Ethiopia, unhappy customer does not equal a customer that moves on. It equals a customer who is desperate but has nowhere to go. That is what is happening.
How long can we afford to tolerate such an ‘inconvenience’? The more this ‘inconvenience’ occurs, the more we lose trust over the billing. Addressing the quality of the service is also something which no one wants to tolerate anymore. One of the biggest projects in the history of the country’s telecom industry, the 1.6 Bln USD Telecom Expansion Project, is already put into commercial usage. This, I believe, has to minimize the ‘inconveniences’.