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November 5, 2002

Parly probes cell service

From: News24, South Africa
Nov. 5, 2002

Cape Town - Parliament on Tuesday began its public hearings aimed at improving the standard of service of the country's three cellular operators.

Speaking at the start of the one-day hearing, National Assembly communications committee chairman Nat Kekana called for an annual consumer survey to measure satisfaction with the service provided by Cell C, Vodacom and MTN.

He said this was the case elsewhere in the world.

"We need to have our own measurement of services rendered."

The communications committee had received more than 300 phone calls from disgruntled consumers, as well as countless written complaints, Kekana said.

Complaints ranged from poor signal quality, dropped calls and shoddy customer service, as well as problems with black-listing of stolen phones.

He called on consumers to be vigilant and to exercise their rights.

The operators will be grilled by MPs later on Tuesday.

The watchdog regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA, will also appear before the committee to explain its role in upholding consumer rights

In its submission, the SA Cellular Telecommunications Association raised the issue of "grey" or illegal handsets and their potential impact on service quality.

"They are often modified and can affect network quality," Sacta chairman Gert du Plessis told MPs.

There was no scientific proof that cellphones, including grey phones, held any health risks, he said.

Sacta was looking at creating an ombudsman to assist in disputes between consumers and the manufacturers of cellphones.

Mike Westcott of Challenge Productions, a television and film company, said he had two deaf partners and urged cellphone operators to make available a package targeted specifically at the deaf community.

The advent of cellphones had revolutionised the way in which deaf people could communicate through the use of SMS.

There were about four million deaf or hard-of-hearing South Africans who would benefit from such a package.

It was very costly for a deaf person, earning a minimum wage, to afford to buy a cellphone and airtime.

Westcott urged the operators to consider subsidised SMS messaging and to create a special package for that.

© 2002 News24