Correspondence documents seen by this publication show how the Botswana Communication Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) is powerless to play an oversight role of monitoring mobile operators’ billing systems.
This emerges from copies of documents in which a customer filed a complaint with the Authority querying Mascom’s alleged hair raising charges of data usage or experienced mobile bill shock.
Mobile bill data shock refers to the surprise customers experience when they receive unexpectedly high mobile bill charges.
The customer who identified himself as T Raveendran states in his letter addressed to Mascom that he seeks to establish why the service provider’s automated system billed him the amount of P4, 60.54 for data consumed over a period of four hours.
“The amount of P 4, 60.54 relates to data usage of either up or down loaded information from the internet,” states Raveendran in his letter dated 21 April 2021 and addressed to the chief executive officer of Mascom.
Mascom stood its ground insisting that the customer had been billed correctly.
Responding to The Telegraph queries, Mascom spokesperson Tebogo Lebotse-Sebego said while this was a matter between the operator and its customer, “We can however confirm that Mascom received a complaint from the afore-mentioned customer and investigations were carried out and feedback given to the customer.”
Not satisfied with the operator’s response, Raveendran then escalated the matter to BOCRA.
“I suppose, after mediation by BOCRA, the same Authority will arbitrate the dispute and produce their findings,” he said in a letter addressed to BOCRA’s Director, Legal Secretary, Joyce Wisa-Molwane.
Still Mascom was unfazed and also informed the Authority that there was nothing untoward as far as its billing system was concerned.
Replying to Raveebdran, Wisa-Molwane informed Raveendran that “I have noted your mails and realise that notwithstanding the explanations given by Mascom you are still disputing the veracity thereof and the invoice.”
She added that, “As the overseers of their network Mascom is best placed to give you the responses to your queries.”
As the dispute between the parties boiled over, Mascom’s Business Support Manager |, Moshe Kootsiwe wrote to Molwane stating that, “I propose you mediate at this stage. The question(s) below are not clear to me and I am unable to associate them to the billing complaint in front of us.”
Raveendran also wrote to Kootsiwe stating that, “I am sorry that we could not conclude the meeting and we had difference in the interpretation and understanding of the technical jargon.” He then explained to Kootsiwe that, “Extending this conviction I said that based on the one time charge of P 4600, means 5GB consumed in 4 hours results in an average speed that cannot even down load one What’s up(sic) message.”
In her letter to Wisa-Molwane, Mascom’s Head of Legal, Regulatory & Compliance, Boipelo Matenge stated that, “Please be advised that we have considered once again the customer’s complaint and we are of the view that Mascom billed the customer accordingly and commensurate to the usage by the customer.”
She added that, “It is our considered view that we have provided sufficient guidance to the customer on the billing as per our correspondence with the customer as well as during our meetings with the Authority.
Matenge further stated that, “We are therefore unable to abandon our claim to the amount charged as per the customer’s demands.”
Wisa-Molwane acknowledged that the complainant’s position was premised on historical consumption and usage adding that, “however Mascom is adamant that the bill for the month to which your dispute relates is accurate.”
She said it was unfortunate that the Operator’s system and its functionality and accuracy can at this juncture only be confirmed by them as the operators thereof.
“Whilst this may ex facie may seem unfair it is a reality and an aspect which the Authority is working on addressing through mechanisms that will entail operator billing systems to be independently audited to confirm their veracity and accuracy and hence dispel with, inter alia, complaints such as yours,” she said.
The implementation of the aforesaid is scheduled to commence at the beginning of the next financial year i.e. April 2022.
“From the Authority’s perspective, once we have a better appreciation of Mascom’s billing systems from an independent auditor, we will be in a better position to make a judgment on your matter and further request interrogation of billing of data as part of our scope for audit,” said Wisa-Molwane.
At this juncture, Raveendran lost his cool and accused BOCRA of ‘shuffling its feet’ in dealing with his query.
“Please carry out your responsibility mandated through an Act without fear or shame. Like I said should BOCRA advise the complainants to await an action scheduled for 6 months from now whilst the query itself is 8 months old, it is Justice delayed hence Justice denied,” he said.
He added that, “The Authority was meant to be the Arbitrator and without means and teeth the Authority is shuffling its feet whilst the 10 year (=120 billings) consumption data is glaring at them.”
Replying to Raveendran’s concerns, Wisa-Molwane informed him that, “BOCRA deals with matters within its regulatory mandate and makes decisions based on cogent evidence it has before it.”
Suggesting that BOCRA has no control over mobile operators’ billings systems, she further informed Raveendran that “In your matter the Operator was requested to explain their processes, which from your mails is still not satisfactory to you. The Authority is a regulator and not operator of systems utilised by its licensees and therefore not in a position at this juncture to rebut assertions made by operators pertaining to their billing systems.”
She revealed that to deal with this over the years the “Authority has endeavoured to come up with mechanisms to address the issue the latest of which is to mandate all operators to have their billing systems audited.”
“You will note that this has required consultations with operators and the formulation of Audit of Billing Guidelines which were approved by the Board this year and will be implemented in the next financial year to give the operators the opportunity to prepare for the exercise both in terms of resources and alignment with other regulatory requirements they are mandated to perform by virtue of their licenses,” said Wisa-Molwane.
She also stated that, “For any robust decision to be made, whether by the Authority, arbitrator, or court one would need to sufficiently counter Mascom’s assertions on what happens in their systems technically- and we believe that the afore-mentioned exercise of audit would be the most transparent and independent method.”
Wisa-Molwane also denied claims that BOCRA was “shuffling its feet” but was rather proposing the matter to be handled in a particular manner to ensure that responses “to your query are adequately dealt with without prejudicing your continued access to connectivity in the interim.”
She added that “As suggested any payment made will be without prejudice and you will be free to resuscitate your query. At that time, armed with independent data and a fuller appreciation of their billing systems the Authority will make a finding that it can defend if contested by Mascom.”
She said the Authority was empowered to impose penalties on operators for non-compliance with their license conditions, :which include charging of consumers in accordance with approved tariffs and if found wanting the exposure to Mascom is up to 10% of their net revenue and this they are aware of.”
“Notwithstanding the afore-said, Mascom has remained adamant pertaining to your bill query,” she said.
Lebotse-Tebogo explained that deliberate effort is made to amicably resolve all customer complaints. “Should customers remain dissatisfied with the resolution, they are well within their rights to escalate matters as guided by our complaint procedure to the regulator. The customer followed this process and escalated to the Regulator,” she said.
Asked to comment on claims that BOCRA was failing in its mandate to resolve or address disputes like this one, BOCRA’s spokesperson Aaron Nyelesi said the Authority, “notes the claim and respects those who make it.”
However, where parties are aggrieved by BOCRA’ decision or feel that BOCRA failed to resolve the matter, Nyelesi said the law provides for appeal to the High Court.
Raveendran confirmed has to this publication that he has taken up the matter with the Authority. He has since threatened to seek redress from the court.