The commission seems to be moving in the right direction in checking on the quality of services, which is a concern, and said to be lagging behind Hong Kong, Seoul and even China.
Over two months ago, the regulator did an audit check and came up with some interesting news. It found out that most of the 3G operators have not been using the 2,100 megahertz (MHz) spectrum fully to roll out 3G services. Instead, some have been using the lower bands, 900MHz and 1,800MHz, to roll out the services. It’s more economical to do so. They have been providing 3G coverage but not real 3G speed and capacity.
3G is meant to give you higher speeds just like 4G can give you super-fast data speed.
Four years later, in 2006, Time dotCom Bhd (TDC) and MiTV Corporation Sdn Bhd got two more blocks of the same spectrum. MiTV’s spectrum is used by sister company U Mobile, while TDC, as soon as it secured the spectrum, sold it to DiGi.Com Bhd for a handsome profit.
To be fair, 3G has never taken off despite the hype. In Europe, operators paid hefty sums for the spectrum, while here, it was for a small fee.
But a decade later, finding out that the operators are still on a bandwidth that is lower than 3G and claiming to be offering 3G services makes us wonder if we have been overcharged.
This, perhaps, explains why there have been complaints about the 3G service; the speed and capacity have not been there, and it has been patchy and unreliable for most users.
There is no denying that the operators have been investing. It is not easy for them, as they have to deal with all kinds of challenges and authorities to get the service to the customer. However, when they claim it to be 3G service, it should be 3G service.
Two weeks ago, the operators were issued a stern warning to make the change or face hefty fines. One operator is rushing to do so, while the others are still waiting. They have till the year-end to face the regulator.
It is also unfortunate that it has taken the regulator so long to find out, as now the march is towards 4G and consumers will never find out how much extra they would have paid for the 3G service if it is not 3G speed and capacity they are getting.
But then, had the regulator not found out, consumers would not have found out, too. This tells us a lot about the state and quality of services, the promises and marketing pledges made, the pricing, the spectrum usage and all the money paid by consumers for what they had thought were 3G services.
However, as consumers, what do we benchmark our 3G services against? The onus is on the regulator to both set the benchmark and make sure it is adhered to. When we pay 10 sen for a product, we do not expect a five-sen product.
This is unfortunate, especially since our operators make among the highest earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation margins in the world. When they make so much, they should not compromise on service in the pursuit of profits.
Consumers should get a fair deal for what they are paying for. If indeed there has been any inconsistency, then the parties involved should be gracious enough to admit it and compensate the consumer.
Contributed by B K Sidhu The Star Nov 29 2013
Business Editor (News) B K Sidhu feels the local regulator should follow what the European regulators do; force operators to drop broadband charges.