Pay television service providers including StarTimes, DStv, Zuku and GOtv risk fines of up to 10 percent of their turnover for violating consumer rights including persistent service unavailability.
The competition watchdog in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), says it has observed “widespread violations of consumer rights” by the service providers including unfavourable conditions that absolve them from liability.
Comesa Competition Commission says pay TV providers are limiting consumer choices through the practice of bundled packages and are also failing to compensate consumers when pre-paid channels are switched off.
“Such conducts may be in breach of consumer protection provisions under the Comesa Competition regulations. Service providers found in breach of the regulations risk a penalty of up to 10 percent of their turnover in Comesa,” says the watchdog.
The Commission has also flagged the lack of redress or poor complaint-handling mechanisms as another way through Pay TV service providers are violating consumer protection provisions.
Customers were for instance in 2009 left counting losses after pay TV channel Gateway Television (GTV) folded, leaving them with satellite dishes and decoders.
Gateway Broadcast Services, the company that owned GTV, launched its services in Nairobi in 2007 and became popular for broadcasting English Premier League before the board decided to liquidate it.
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) statistics up to December last year showed the average monthly bouquet for pay TV services ranged between Sh249 and Sh1,249.
Many pay TV customers complain about signal instability, slow customer service and abrupt review of charges and channels in the bundles being offered.
The watchdog, among other roles, protects consumers against offensive conduct by market actors in 21 Comesa markets including Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Malawi and Mauritius.
Consumers have been asked to engage the Commission directly or through local consumer protection authorities in their countries when their rights are violated.
Kenya has the Competition Authority of Kenya to protect consumers from unfair and misleading market conduct.
CA survey released last March last year showed 84 percent of households that owned set-top boxes used them to access Pay TV content in addition to free-to-air service.
Online streaming and over-the-top platforms, such as Netflix, Showmax and Amazon have been giving stiff competition to pay TV service providers.
The CA in August opened the search for a consultant to advise on how to regulate over-the-top (OTT) media services including online streaming in the wake of their growing popularity in Kenya.