Protecting Consumers' Rights

As Qatar’s telecommunications regulator, ictQATAR works towards achieving an unbiased balance between the service providers’ and consumers’ rights.

The Regulatory Authority is constantly striving to ensure consumer rights protection is at the center of its policies and regulatory decisions and is very aware that it is the consumer who should ultimately benefit from competition.

The Consumer Protection and Complaints Handling section within the Regulatory Authority works closely with the two operators in Qatar – Qtel and Vodafone Qatar - towards implementation of statutory, legal and license obligations. At the same time, it also works towards creating awareness about the consumers’ rights and service provider obligations through different channels.

Inevitably, however, there are times when consumers seek ictQATAR’s assistance in resolving complaints and those complaints that escalate into disputes. “In such situations ictQATAR acts as a mediator between consumers and service providers,” says Meegan Webb, Manager, Legal and Regulatory, Regulatory Authority, ictQATAR. “We have made available several channels through which consumers can reach out to ictQATAR with their inquiries and complaints. We assess each complaint to either advise the consumers to resolve the issue directly with the service providers or we intervene to assist them to reaching a mutually satisfactory resolution.”

ictQATAR works with service providers to take steps even before a consumer reaches the stage of lodging a complaint. “Both the operators in Qatar have been cooperative in ensuring the statutory, legal and license obligation of providing the necessary information to consumers through their websites,” Webb elaborates. The services providers are obligated to publish clearly on their websites terms and conditions of services provided, tariffs and rate cards, roaming charges, information about numbers, information about privacy and customer data protection (customer records and billing records), refunds, fair compensation and fair usage policies relating to Internet usage.

“This information is approved by ictQATAR and the service providers cannot change this information unilaterally without further approval and without providing reasonable notice of such proposed changes to consumers. This ensures consumers are kept properly informed about their rights and obligations prior to purchasing a service and during the service subscription period,” says Webb.

Renny Thomas, a Consumer Protection specialist in Webb’s department, constantly monitors advertisements, offerings and promotions by each service provider to ensure compliance with their obligations and to avoid misleading and deceptive advertising and conduct by service providers. At the same time, ictQATAR publishes specific information for consumers to create awareness of their rights and to understand “hot issues” that may affect them such as high roaming charges or unsolicited communications on their mobile phones (SPAM). ictQATAR regularly publishes Consumer Alerts on these types of topics, which include tips and guidelines for customers to stay aware.

Consumers may also lodge a complaint by a dedicated email consumervoice@ict.gov.qa, a hotline phone number 103, online complaint system or by fax at 4499 5515. “We also receive many walk-in complainants,” says Neetha Gajather, Section Manager – Consumer Protection. “We work with the service providers to ensure that their consumers are informed about the issue within a reasonable time and through appropriate channels,” Gajather says.

If the complaint can be resolved directly between the consumer and the service provider, the service provider has 30 days – equivalent of a billing cycle – to resolve simple matters. But in urgent situations this time may be reduced to a few days. “The guiding principle we follow is that we have to get some sort of resolution as soon as we can and, of course, we ensure that we are treating both parties fairly, without any bias,” says Webb.

“We get all kinds of grievances. Some common complaints are about disconnections, delay in service provisions, refunds not paid to the customer’s satisfaction, incorrect billing, broadband services not activated or mistakenly disconnected, high roaming charges, slow provisioning of services or failure to activate SIM cards,” Gajather states, adding, “But we also get some ‘strange’ ones - like people stealing mobile phones, spouses being accused of reading secret a SMS or unauthorized use of personal SIM cards. We have to deal with each complaint on a case-by-case basis because it often involves giving legal advice or direction.”

Although ictQATAR is here to protect consumer rights in Qatar, individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions and behavior. When you “sign-up” for a service, empower yourself by carefully reading the terms and conditions of service before you buy. Ask questions about everything and remember to use the service according to your obligations. Your service provider is your key information source when looking to purchase a service, and they have a legal obligation to provide you with any information you may require prior to purchase.