Data is the air we all now inhale. And it is a painful exercise! It is so much unlike the easy natural air we are used to! Data has become currency in our technologically driven world.
From the basics, such as communicating, getting information, fraternising, to the more innovative, technologically driven activities, such as the easy accessing of health services for the rural deprived and financing services, data now drives our very lives. It has become a basic good. In our day, it is no longer food, clothing and shelter. I can be audacious to say that it is now food, clothing, shelter and data.
However, experiences of using and accessing data in Ghana are frustrating, to say the least. I heard Vice-President, Alhaji Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, saying at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana last month, that the government was engaging the telcos to lower the cost of data and expand access to the Internet in the country. Well, it is about time!
I really hope that is tackled as a matter of urgency, as most of us are getting asphyxiated by the charges and heartache of Ghana data bundles, the use of which leaves most high and dry!
Data in Ghana gets used up faster than the world's fastest sprinter, Usain Bolt. Sometimes too, the download time is so slow that under pressure, one can get a heart attack.
Apart from data for the Internet, Ghanaian telcos are taking their clients for granted in talk time.
Right from the buying of a recharge card to loading and using it. I love the current advertisement by Airtel/TIGO on their fuse bundles which do not expire. Indeed, the advertisement captures succinctly how I feel as a user of telecommunication products and services in Ghana. In that ad, patrons of a restaurant are hounded as they eat, with staff standing over them and stopping them in the middle of their meal.
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That is the same way I feel as a user. It is as if I am being hounded, under constant supervision, as I browse with data bundles that go so ever slowly or run so fast. With that is the pressure and heart-wrenching moments when using the Internet and the suspicion about data being spirited away before download time ends. I have swung like a pendulum, swaying towards all the data chips available, and I have not been satisfied with any of them. It is a stifling experience and I believe research would reveal the debilitating impact on my mind, body and soul.
Service of these telcos are also terrible! These days, MTN lines are so foggy, one cannot hear what is said at the other end of the line, even when the person is sitting right under one's nose.
The most annoying part is that the line drops at will. It is as if the telcos set a timer as they sit behind whatever servers they use to manipulate us, dropping our calls so intentionally at every long minute of call.
There are also issues about billing and charges. With their technological capacities and big names, how come they slip in charging me most times? Last month, I tried bundling some data, and the pop-up message from Vodafone was that I had been unsuccessful in bundling, meanwhile, the credit amount was zero.
I frantically tried to speak to a customer service person and to my surprise, I then got a message after calling the toll-free number that some two pesewas had been deducted from my account. My annoyance was not in the money deducted, but the fact that I had to top up to buy the data package I wanted and I was nowhere near anyone selling recharge cards at the time.
After getting through, I did not mince words in pointing out to them their efforts at pillaging from Ghanaians at the least opportunity. If a pesewa was surreptitiously siphoned off the about 26 million subscribers each time they tried to call toll-free numbers, only imagine how much money they would make at clients’ expense.
No wonder we have all these parliamentarians with five or more phones, subscribed to all the different telcos. I call them "moving communication centres".
Please we deserve better in Ghana, with a minister superintending the sector and the various agencies. Please work for us, don't sleep on your watch.