By Khulile Thwala
Africa’s pay television service providers including StarTimes, DStv, Zuku, and GOtv, risk fines of up to 10 per cent of their revenue for violating consumer rights.
According to the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), the violation of consumer rights includes but is not limited to persistent service unavailability penalties. The competition watchdog said it has observed widespread violations of consumer rights by the service providers, including unfavourable conditions which absolve them from liability.
The CCC reported that pay-TVservice providers are limiting consumer choices through the practice of bundled packages and are also failing to compensate consumers when prepaid channels are switched off.
According to Business Daily, such conduct may be in breach of consumer protection provisions under the COMESA Competition regulations.
The COMESA competition watchdog has also flagged poor complaint-handling mechanisms by the Pay TV service providers.
The Commission has highlighted the lack of redress or poor complaint-handling mechanisms as another way pay TV service providers are found to be violating consumer protection provisions. StarTimes and Multichoice (DStv) are the two largest pay-TV operators in Africa, with Multichoice, Open View and StarSet being the only operators in Eswatini.
Meanwhile, customers were for example in 2009 left counting losses after pay TV channel Gateway Television (GTV) folded, leaving them with satellite dishes and decoders. According to the Commission, many pay TV customers complain about signal instability, slow customer service, and abrupt review of charges and channels in the bundles being offered.
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The watchdog, among other roles, protects consumers against offensive conduct by market actors in 21 COMESA markets including Eswatini, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Malawi, and Mauritius. Consumers have been asked to engage the Commission directly or through local consumer protection authorities in their countries when their rights are violated.
A survey released in March last year showed 84 per cent of households that owned set-top boxes used them to access Pay TV content in addition to free-to-air service.
Online streaming and over-the-top platforms, such as Netflix, Showmax, and Amazon have been giving stiff competition to pay TV service providers.