CPC Orders MultiChoice to Compensate Subscribers, Unlock Free-to-Air Channels

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The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has issued far-reaching directives to MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, owners of the Digital Satellite Broadcast Television (DStv), to among other things, make compensations to its subscribers within 90 days, after the council established allegations of violations of consumer rights against the broadcaster.

Specifically, the council ordered DStv to henceforth put services on hold whenever consumers are away and also release of free-to-air channels even at the expiration of subscription.

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DStv had often refused to release the free to air channels, which should include local television stations whenever current subscription expired.

Sources had told THISDAY that pay television stations are under obligations to unlock the free to air channels as part of broadcasting agreement signed. But this had often been in breach.

However, the CPC further ordered compensation across board to consumers for lost viewing time and introduction of local toll free lines as well as reasonable equitable spread of popular sports channels, among others.

Also, the council directed the multinational pay-tv company to present written assurances in line with Section 10 of the council’s enabling law that it will not engage in any conduct which is detrimental to the interest of consumers.

The CPC, in an unprecedented regulatory onslaught, further directed DStv to subject its processes to the Council’s inspection for 18 months from the date of the orders to ensure compliance with the directives contained in the orders.

The directions followed various allegations of viewing rights violations by consumers.

The council said investigations into the allegations were substantiated.

The CPC, in a statement signed by its spokesman, Abiodun Obimuyiwa, a copy which was made available to THISDAY explained that “During the course of the investigation, the Council observed that the company’s billing system, whereby billing is not contemporaneous with the provision of service, was not in the best interest of consumers” and therefore ordered “MultiChoice to install a billing system that ensures billing starts with the provision of service.”

It further ordered DStv to within 180 days, adopt a “technology that supports suspension of service when subscribers are otherwise unable to enjoy their service on account of being away for a limited period of time”.

It noted however, that such a request for suspension of service must be effected for a period of between 7 to 14 days and not more than twice in a year with a 72-hour notice to MultiChoice.

The pay-television company was also ordered to within 90 days provide across board compensation to its subscribers, considering the fact that many of them have over time lost legitimate and paid viewing time by its conduct of not restoring service contemporaneously after payment as well as other instances of disruptions.

The council’s Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, expressed optimism that compliance with these reforms would bring about a new dawn for Nigerian consumers, who would henceforth enjoy value for money in their engagement with the company.

She further reiterated the council’s commitment towards sanitising the nation’s market-place for the benefit of consumers, assuring that no stone would be left un-turned to ensure it is no longer business as usual and that shoddy service delivery becomes a thing of the past in the country.

Meanwhile, on the non-availability of popular channels in certain bouquets, the CPC ordered the firm to within 90 days ensure “a reasonably equitable spread of popular sports and other channels hitherto concentrated in its premium bouquet over all available bouquets”.

MultiChoice was ordered to keep local and free-to-air channels open so that subscribers would have the opportunity of watching these channels, even when their subscriptions have expired.

In order to aid easy and fast access to the company by subscribers who wish to make complaints or enquiries, CPC also directed MultiChoice not only to maintain local toll-free telephone access lines for its call centres, but should also ensure the call centres operate for longer hours during public holidays and weekends.

MultiChoice was also directed to formulate within 90 days a written compensation policy which should “outline amongst other things, the procedure for compensating subscribers for injury they suffer on account of MultiChoice conduct and take into consideration not just viewing time lost, but inconveniences suffered by subscribers”.

The regulatory agency, amng other things, also directed MultiChoice to “develop a Customer Care Manual which shall contain mechanisms to address customer complaints in an accurate, friendly, timely, efficient, courteous and honest manner”.

On the DStv firm’s agreements with its subscribers, the council disclosed that several provisions of the Service Level Agreement and the Terms and Conditions of Subscription signed on by subscribers were found to be grossly unfair, unjust and one-sided, directing that such provisions should be expunged, re-drafted and submitted to the council.thisday.