Commission seeks compensation for services disruption from Multichoice
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), formerly known as Consumer Protection Council, has urged Multichoice, owners of digital satellite television (DStv), to begin moves that will ensure subscribers are compensated for disruption of services resulting from failed, faulty, poor, or unprofessional installation by its agents.
Besides, FCCPC wants the South African-owned firm to provide subscribers the option of periodically suspending subscription no less than three times yearly for up to 14 days in each instance.
In addition, the Commission also charged MultiChoice to ensure that all subscribers have free and automatic access to the prevailing selected local free-to-air channels.
These instructions formed part of the 11 directives in a “Final Order” issued against Multichoice for raising its subscription tariffs despite a court order barring it, and in line with its new mandate after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018 (FCCPA) into law in January.
In a document made available to journalists, signed by the Chief Executive Officer, FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, titled: Final order and judicial resolution of investigation of Multichoice: in Federal Government of Nigeria vs. Multichoice Nigeria Limited, Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/894/18.
The Commission explained that on June 17, 2018, the FCCPC filed an action against MultiChoice Nigeria Limited (operators of DStv payTV) before the Federal High Court in Abuja, which was necessitated because MultiChoice acted in bad faith in pre-empting the FCCPC after a broad investigation, and a proposed mutually agreed Consent Order. This addressed broad consumer protection and service responsiveness/quality issues that were lacking, and had become the subject of incessant complaints.
FCCPC noted that a key mutual understanding in the jointly agreed Consent Order was that no material terms of the Subscription Agreement between MultiChoice and its subscribers will change during an agreed period of supervision. This is to ensure that the crucial issues in repeated complaints that were covered by the Consent Order were sufficiently addressed under the existing terms and rubric of expectations by consumers.
“However, instead of abiding by that understanding and executing the Consent Order at the proposed time agreed, MultiChoice rather increased subscription rates (a material term of the Subscription Agreement) in pre-emption to executing the Consent Order. The FCCPC considering this a demonstration of bad faith engaged MultiChoice unsuccessfully, and as such, ultimately filed an action to enjoin MultiChoice to return to honouring the mutual understandings with the FCCPC, and subject itself to the authority and jurisdiction of the FCCPC.
“The Court granted interim injunctive relief prohibiting MultiChoice from proceeding with the conduct that the Commission alleged constituted bad faith. MultiChoice failed to obey the injunctive order of the court, preferring instead to challenge the validity and proprietary of the order and powers of the court. The court order became the subject of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
“Considering that consumers were not receiving the benefits of the proposed modification of MultiChoice’s approach to consumer protection while the case remained pending, the Commission after broad legal consultation and interpretation of the law decided to proceed with entering an order against MultiChoice anyway. Although the possibility of resistance and argument by MultiChoice that the entire subject matter was subjudice, and the Commission unable to proceed or enforce any such order existed, the Commission sufficiently believed there was adequate legal authority to still modify MultiChoice’s conduct while the case remained pending in court.
“On January 25, 2019, the Commission entered a Final Order against MultiChoice. The directives in the Final Order were no longer a matter of consent or mutual agreement with MultiChoice. They are directives; the compliance to which the Commission believes it is capable of legally enforcing.”
FCCPC noted that the combination of its new mandate/powers under the new law, and its Final Order, renders the issue the Commission sought to enforce in part mute, and MultiChoice arguments defeated. As a result, the Federal High Court on May 16, 2019 struck out the case pending before it on the subject matter.
“However, MultiChoice is under obligation to comply with the Commission’s Final Order of January 25, 2019, and the directives therein, which summary of the Final order can be located at www.cpc.gov.ng. The Commission is monitoring compliance, and welcomes consumer feedback in this respect.
“The Final Order, or the case that has been struck out are without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the Commission to inquire into the operations and behaviour of MultiChoice under the FCCPA for conduct arising after January 30, 2019, and the Commission again welcomes information that may assist in holding MultiChoice, or any other company for that matter, accountable to consumers and competitors, as well as under prevailing law.”