Outage may cost Vodacom dearly

By Kashiefa Ajam Time of article published Jul 23, 2011

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Nearly a month after Vodacom’s epic network outage, the seven complaints received by the National Consumer Commission are still being investigated - but they could cost the cell provider dearly, and open the floodgates for further complaints.

The commission says it is using Section 54 of the new Consumer Protection Act (CPA) to have all the complainants compensated for losses cause by the outage - provided they can be substantiated.

Section 54 of the CPA gives consumers the right to demand good-quality services, and states that if a supplier fails to perform a service, the consumer may require the supplier to remedy any defect in the quality of the service performed or goods supplied, or refund a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed and goods supplied.

The commission has forwarded the complaints to Vodacom, but the cell provider has not yet responded.

Vodacom experienced a catastrophic network failure last month, leaving most of its customers without network connection on the same day as the deadline for Regulation of Interception of Communication Act registrations expired. It denied the outage was related to the deadline.

Two days later, the company issued a full-page apology in Sunday newspapers, prompting National Consumer Commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala to say an apology was not good enough and that Vodacom should refund its subscribers as stipulated in the CPA.

But an expert has warned that cellphone subscribers who are planning to claim compensation from Vodacom for the losses suffered when its network was down may find it difficult to quantify their claims.

Eric Levenstein, a lawyer at Werksmans Attorneys, said that although the act stipulated that consumers could demand a refund of a reasonable portion of the price paid for lost airtime service, it may be extremely difficult to quantify the amount to be claimed. “If the downtime happened in one instance, as it did last week, then I believe that customers are going to struggle to calculate their losses.”

Meanwhile, Portia Maurice, Vodacom’s chief officer of Corporate Affairs, said the cell provider could not comment on the complaints but would correspond directly with the commission. She added that Vodacom had installed more fibre capacity and upgraded certain software to avoid future disruptions.

“Our number one priority over the coming months is to ensure that our customers get the best possible network experience,” Maurice said. - Saturday Star

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