Consumers battling the automatic deduction of cellphone credits for unsolicited content have notched up a major victory with a government moratorium on operators offering such content.
The Indonesia Telecommunications Regulatory Body (BRTI) announced over the weekend that it had issued a letter to the 10 cellphone operators in the country to stop them offering the paid content via text message, pop-up screens or voice broadcasts for an indefinite period.
Gatot Dewa Broto, a spokesman for the Communications and Information Technology Ministry, said on Sunday that the move was the government’s response to reports of premium content bilking consumers of phone credit and recommendations by the House of Representatives to crack down on unscrupulous content providers.
“The operators have also been instructed to de-register all customers from these premium message services by midnight on Monday at the latest,” he said.
“They will then have to notify their customers about the de-registration and instruct them on how to register again if they choose to do so, without incurring extra charges.”
In another step toward greater consumer protection, the BRTI has also required the 10 operators to tabulate and submit a list of the amount of credit deducted from each customer for these services since registering.
“This is concrete proof of the government’s response to consumer concerns about the stealing of phone credits,” Gatot said.
The issue of unsolicited deductions came to the public attention when Jakarta resident Feri Kuntoro reported Telkomsel, the country’s biggest mobile operator, to the police earlier this month for letting a content provider siphon his phone credit.
Feri was himself later reported to the police for defamation by Colibri Network, the content provider in question, though he insisted he had not leveled any accusations against them.
Last week, Feri told the Jakarta Globe that he was being harassed after lodging the report and that he had appealed to the Victim and Witness Protection Agency (LPSK) for help.
Renowned consumer rights advocate David Tobing, who is representing Feri in his lawsuit, said the BRTI’s order was less than satisfactory because it did not actually oblige the operators to de-register their customers from the premium services.
“So what the operators have done is give their customers the option of de-registering, and not actively done it themselves,” he said on Sunday.
He cited the case of Telkomsel, which has sent out text messages instructing customers with active premium message subscriptions on how they can de-register.
“That kind of message giving customers the option to de-register won’t necessarily be acted on by all customers,” David said.
Activists tried to get people to switch off their cellphones for two hours on Saturday to protest the unsolicited deductions, but it was unclear how many heeded the call to hang up o n their cellular companies.
Saputra Harja, the organizer o f the No Handphone Movement, said he was trying to confirm the number of people who joined in.
“I am optimistic that many people participated by turning off their phones for two hours,” Saputra said. “But we still have to see how this affected mobile phone traffic.”
The group blames providers for failing to crack down on unscrupulous content companies that steal phone credits from unsuspecting consumers.