Text messages are a way of communicating through mobile phones and network providers use them to advertise their promotions and specials to consumers. However, consumers find ‘promotional text messages’ to be disquieting and annoying.
Botswana has three network providers, Mascom, Orange and be-MOBILE which cater for thousands of consumers across the country. These customers receive thousands of promotional text messages from their cellular network providers on a daily basis, and many of them are not amused.
Consumers’ biggest gripe with network providers is the fact that they send multiple messages everyday throughout the entire month, mostly communicating airtime specials and competitions.
“Network providers can be so annoying, especially when one is expecting an important message from elsewhere. It happens to me a lot whereby I dive for my phone with excitement, wearing a huge smile, only to find a message from network providers,” said Letlhogile Boate, a university student.
As a network provider, Orange Botswana views sending text messages as a critical and effective communication channel that they use to communicate with their large customer base. “Promotional messages are beneficial to both the operator and customer in that we send information regarding network updates and maintenance which allows customers to anticipate and plan their communication activities,” said Boga Chilinde, Orange Botswana Public Relations Officer.
She added that promotional text messages do not only benefit operators and customers but also government and various other organisations.
“We partner with government departments in public awareness campaigns like during disaster management. We also work with non-profit organisations and NGos to send awareness messages and requests donations,” said Chilinde.
Others like Keatlaretse Sekgwekgwe believe unrequested text messages are an invasion of privacy.
“Receiving promotional messages during the day is okay, that we can deal with. But receiving them in the middle of the night while we are asleep annoys me a lot. I at times even attempt to reply the messages, hoping for a response from the network providers,” she said.
Arnold Kgetho on the other hand says he finds mobile network promotional messages very useful as they alert him about airtime specials and freebies.
Asked if promotional text messages from mobile network providers can be blocked by consumers, Botswana Communications Regulations Authority (BOCRA)’s Deputy Director of Communications, Aaron Nyelesi said: “Consumers have a right to opt not to receive the messages. Consumers should communicate their decision to opt out of receiving such messages to the operator. Where the operator is aware of the consumer’s choice to be exempted from receiving such messages and the operator concerned persists, then the consumer can escalate the matter to BOCRA for assistance”.
Orange Botswana also confirmed that they do allow customers to request to be blocked from receiving any promotional SMS. Once the request is received and implemented, customers don’t receive messages from Orange anymore.
However, such consumers have been warned that such an option will result in them missing out on important information that they would otherwise receive on the fly, e.g. information on free calls or freebies.
BOCRA also revealed that they have not received any complaints from consumers regarding promotional messages since January 2015.
However consumers have voiced their concern regarding this matter at educational campaigns and exhibitions where BOCRA took part.
“Sending consumers promotional messages is not against the law. Operators are required by their licence conditions to inform and/or educate their customers about the services they provide. However, operators are expected to send the messages during the day when it is convenient,” Nyelesi said.
Having said so, consumers cannot lay charges against mobile network providers. Instead they can report the matter to BOCRA for assistance. Notwithstanding this process, they still have rights under laws of Botswana to take any legal action deem necessary against operators.
As a licensed entity, Orange Botswana is obliged to comply with the guidelines set out by its licensing authority, BOCRA. Paragraphs 7.1.2 and 7.3.3 of the 2013 BOCRA Quality of Service guidelines oblige network operators to keep customers informed about their services. All Orange Botswana promotional messages are therefore intended for this purpose.