Tifatul Takes Aim at Shady Services for Cellphones

The Jakarta Globe

Elisabeth Oktofani & Ulma Haryanto

Mobile phone service providers that charge customers for unsolicited services may soon find themselves facing sanctions, the communications minister said on Tuesday.

“For the case of stealing phone credit, we’re cooperating with the Indonesian Telecommunications Regulatory Body [BRTI],” Communications and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring said. “If the content provider and the operator are proven to be guilty, we’re going to sanction them.”

Tifatul said his office had been inundated by complaints from consumers saying they had been registered for premium text message or ring tone services without their consent and often without realizing they were being charged for it.

“It is a crime to deduct phone credit without permission,” the minister said.

“If [the customer] is registered for a service, there should be permission, fact and evidence they agreed to it. But if they are sent something that deducts their phone credit [without their knowledge], that is a crime and against the law.”

Tifatul encouraged victims of dishonest service providers to report their grievances to the BRTI’s call center at number 159.

“People might feel reluctant to report to the court or the police if they lose phone credit worth between Rp 1,000 and 2,000 [11 cents to 22 cents],” he said. “But if it is Rp 1,000 to Rp 2,000 from millions of people, that amounts to billions. Reporting the offenses is free.”

The minister is scheduled to meet with mobile phone operators today to discuss the problem.

David Tobing, a lawyer and consumer rights advocate, told the Jakarta Globe that the agreements signed by content providers and telecommunications operators were at the root of the consumer nuisance.

“The government should have stricter regulations and tighter monitoring on the cooperation between the two,” he said.

“There should be a clause saying that whatever type of service a content provider offers, it should only be offered after consent from the user. Agreements between the user and a telecommunications operator also have to make clear that there is no chance of interference by third-party content providers.”

David himself has filed a lawsuit at the South Jakarta District Court against Telkomsel, the country’s biggest mobile phone operator, for Rp 100,000 — the amount he said he lost to a rogue content provider.

He said he was charged Rp 10,000 for every text message he received from the provider, even though he had never registered for the service.

“The messages finally stopped after I complained to Telkomsel, but my lost credit could not be recovered,” he said.

“I’m now waiting for the first hearing in the lawsuit.”

Tulus Abadi, managing director of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI), said Tifatul’s threat of sanctions was too little, too late.

“The fact that this case has grown so big shows that the BRTI and the government have not done their job of protecting consumers,” Tulus said.

“As a regulator, the main purpose of the BRTI is to regulate telecommunication operators. Has it done its job?”

Further Coverage

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