Major dissatisfaction with the mobile telecommunication service in Lebanon prompted a group in June to launch a new initiative named alloFAIL with the aim of garnering enough support to put tangible pressure on the country’s two service providers.
A group of people, none of whom are affiliated with any political party or religious fractions, have come together to create what they describe as a “mobile telecommunication market environment that respects the basic human rights in terms of freedom of expression, information and information technology access, development and dissemination.”
“The group includes a lawyer, a telecom engineer as well as experts in Lebanese PR,” said Hussein Dajani, the founder of alloFail who himself comes from an advertising background.
“The Arab Spring became a springboard for a ‘consumer uprising’ where people have a right to get what they are paying for. Our initiative is about consumer protection. ” Dajani told Al Arabiya.
Lebanon has two mobile telecom service providers: Alfa and MTC Touch.
The alloFail campaigners say Lebanese consumers are currently not getting what they pay for. According to them, the prices of the telecom providers and the quality of the services do not match. Furthermore, they say there is problem with transparency, since many customers have received exuberant telephone bills but when they contest the issue, the telecom companies fail to provide valid documentation for the billing or subscribers are simply told their devices are faulty when in fact they are not
AlloFail is also taking on the telecom call centers, claiming that the not only is there a lack in customer service but often times its impossible to even get through to file a complaint.
The campaigners are there for hoping to benchmark the Lebanese mobile telecom market with regional and international markets when it comes to transparency as well as products and service issues.
The initiative has a Facebook group as well as a Twitter page and an online survey to bring awareness to the issue. The group founders want Lebanese consumers to have a shift in attitude where they can put their complaints regarding poor quality of call centers, network connection issues and lack of transparency in billings, down in writing so it can be presented to the relevant authorities.
So far 50 cases have been presented to the telecom operators, the Telecommunication Ministry and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA.)
“That may not sound like a large number,” said Dajani, “but those are the cases we have recorded in detail.”
When asked if any of the parties have responded he said, “only the telecom providers."
The COO of MTC Touch said the telecom provider had no issues with the alloFail campaign since it even provides them with a venue to gather customer feedback and persistent issues for them to resolve.
Nadim Khater said getting complaints is a natural part of the business and that several resources and channels have been allocated for this purpose.
He also told Al Arabiya that the company is working closely with the Lebanese Telecommunication Ministry to develop new initiatives to cater to customers’ needs.
He said MCT Touch often monitors the Facebook page and Twitter feed of alloFail to be able to come up with quick solutions to consumers’ problems.
Meanwhile a spokeswoman from Alfa said they are listening to the customers’ complaints and that they are closely monitoring comments posted on social media networks since they rely on this feedback to improve services. Furthermore, Alfa said they have a designated team trained to assist customers in solving any individual problems they may face, whenever it is technically possible.
The company added that it encourages its subscribers to continue getting in contact with them via the official channels.
However, Mohammad Darwish a lawyer working with the Consumers Lebanon NGO, said the alloFail campaign simply highlights that Lebanese consumers are becoming more aware of their rights.
“The telecommunications sector in Lebanon is one of the worst and most expensive in the world the rates are high compared to the region and to other developing countries, and the calls are the worst,” Darwish said.
He added that since the 2005 Consumers Protection Act, companies are obligated to provide the consumers with the best possible service.
The NGO is planning to join ranks with the campaign to attract further complaints from disgruntled consumers in an effort to pressure the telecom companies to improve their services.
Last year a similar campaign was launched for consumers to air their grievances on Lebanon having one of the slowest Internet services in the world,
A group of activists went on the offensive with a lobbying effort dubbed Ontornet (slang Lebanese Arabic for “wait for the net.”)
However Internet problems continue to persist. Last week the country suffered three Internet blackouts.
Reportedly the main issue has been a tug-of-war between pro-and anti-government political factions against within the Ministry of Telecommunications and a company called Ogero tasked with running the state’s landline phone system.
Enraged Internet users overwhelmed Alfa and Touch with 1,200,000 calls to ask about the reason behind the Internet shutdown, but the companies could only respond to 35,000 customers, LBCI TV reported.
Telecommunications minister Nioclas Sehnaoui flew to Cyprus to help restore links to the world since that country is part of a maritime cable consortium that includes Egypt and France that feeds into Lebanon.
Lebanon suffers from one of the slowest Internet services in the world leading many potential business investors to look elsewhere because of the obvious disincentive, but being online has nonetheless become a vital part of Lebanese people's lives and work.
Local daily Annahar reported customers wouldn’t be compensated for their financial losses since Lebanon is one of nine owners of the IMEWE (India-Middle East-Western Euro) cable that supplies regional clients.