30 July, 2010

Etisalat, eLife and unfair marketing practices

I called Etisalat this afternoon regarding their eLife services which I have posted about previously and have come to some interesting conclusions. Most of all the information provided on their website and the wording that they have chosen, as well as the unavailability of proper information appears to be unfair for consumers.

The information Etisalat offers is as follows:
  • There will be a 100 GB LIMIT on the UNLIMITED eLife packages
  • They claim that it is under test and have no idea when it will be implemented
  • They have no idea how it will be implemented (i.e. what happens after bandwidth limit)
  • They have no idea of what the costs associated with such a limit would be
How are consumers meant to make informed decisions with their purchases when Etisalat is holding back information in such a way? Especially when eLife is offered with a 12 month contract.

Technically speaking Etisalat is offering an unlimited connection at this moment, however they have already previously mentioned things like fair usage policies and such on their website which they have since removed which is a little bit more than suspicious (in that it seems they are trying to make customers purchase an 'unlimited' connection on a 12 month contract that is going to be limited in the near future while making no solid information available).

At the moment there is no actual mention of any limitations at all on their website and this information is only available via phone; there is one webpage regarding the FUP (fair usage policy) however it is no longer linked to anywhere on the site and it makes no mentions of prices or any technical or solid information whatsoever.

I particularly find it interesting that the TRA is always so adamant about 'protecting consumers' when it comes to Skype or security threats on BlackBerry Messenger, but don't seem to do much of anything when it comes to actual consumers. Their policies make for interesting reading...
"2.1 Price Transparency Before Service Offering
2.1.1 Prior to offering service to consumers, licensees shall disclose the
(a) all prices that may apply, including deposits and pre-payments;

Etisalat had no idea when I called what the prices of additional bandwidth would be. Which means they are offering a service to customers without being able to inform customers of what pricing will actually be. This means that Etisalat is not being transparent in their pricing.
"2.2.2 When a Licensee offers a service which is priced per a certain number of usage units or in another similar manner, that Licensee shall provide the functionality for consumers to know their available units."

Etisalat does not currently offer any method for tracking bandwidth usage. To be fair they do not actually have a bandwidth limit yet, however if they are offering people a service that will be limited in the near future it would be considered fair to provide consumers with this service right now so they may ascertain the accuracy and functionality of such a service and also tailor their internet usage to fit any future limits.

"2.3 General Publication Requirements
2.3.1 Licensees shall publish, in a form easily available to consumers,
the prices for its services offered to consumers.
2.3.2 The information shall be published in a manner that is up-to-date
and easy to understand.
2.3.3 Where Licensees make more than one service offer for the same
service, they shall make available the prices in a manner that enables
consumers to compare the various offers.
2.3.4 Licensees shall provide a means for consumers to contact licensees
for further price information."
"2.1 No marketing communication or practice shall, or be likely, to mislead, confuse or deceive consumers by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise."

Etisalat's elife packages are displayed on their website as UNLIMITED yet are going to be LIMITED.

I ask you, is it "easy to understand" or "accurate" when a service is offered as unlimited when it is actually going to be limited?

The dictionary definition of unlimited for those of you who are interested:


not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.
boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.
without any qualification or exception; unconditional."

The usage of the term 'unlimited' in telecommunications marketing has already proven contentious in other countries, yet the TRA has taken no action against Etisalat for it.

"11.1 References to prices, services, terms and conditions, or comparisons thereof, shall be clear and transparent and shall not mislead or deceive or be likely to mislead or deceive consumers."
(Taken from TRA Marketing and Communications Policy)

Obviously when Etisalat uses the language 'unlimited' consumers are going to be mislead into believing they are paying for an internet connection without limits when it will in fact have limits. 
"2.3 Any footnotes or disclaimers in marketing communications or practices
shall be readily visible and legible, audibly apparent and understandable
and shall not contradict, materially qualify or otherwise alter the basis of
the communication or practice.
This limit is mentioned nowhere on their website. The only specific terms and conditions that I could find was a simple "terms and conditions apply" which appeared to be in reference a special offer, Etisalat did not expand upon the terms and conditions for that promotion on their website. Etisalat's terms and conditions PDF makes absolutely no mention of any future bandwidth limitations or fair usage policy and does not fairly warn consumers of what they may end up paying.

"8.1 Marketing communications and practices shall not exploit the credulity,
lack of knowledge or inexperience of consumers."

This last part is what it all comes down to. Etisalat is offering a service which will be limited in the future and is not making adequate information available to consumers, furthermore, consumers who are not technically savvy will not understand the implementation of a fair usage policy on a connection that is described as "unlimited", especially when Etisalat has made little effort to inform customers of what the actual fair usage policy is and provide any solid information. Their usage of the term "UNLIMITED" is a sham and is deceiving and taking advantage of consumers who will be caught unaware when the fair usage policy is introduced. (Etisalat has already previously written on their site that the fair usage applies which would mean some customers believe the FUP is in effect when it currently isn't and this would be detrimental to people wanting to use their connection freely without fear of incurring extra costs)

Etisalat also refuses to offer telephone and internet services under seperate billing with eLife. I have read reports online of Etisalat forcing customers to abandon their Al Shamil internet service (which is just an internet service and does not include telephone connections) and this in itself is alarming. I have also been told by Etisalat's 101 number that some Etisalat business centers are no longer offering Al Shamil at all.
6.2.5 Anti-competitive bundling or tying – bundling or tying products or services offered in Relevant Markets, and which by doing so does or may restrict, prevent, or distort competition in one or more of those Relevant Markets or another Relevant Market;

This means, hypothetically, if you moved house and only had eLife and no traditional copper services you would have to purchase phone and internet from your ISP (in a bundle) and would have no method to subscribe to each individually. Given the upcoming interconnection between Etisalat and Du this would mean a very anti-competitive situation in which you may have to purchase two phone lines to get better offers from different providers.

EDIT: It appears based upon information on du's website and their customer support line they are doing the same forced phone/internet bundling with their 'real broadband' packages.
du said on the phone that they have no information about what would be available (i.e. whether seperate telephone/internet connections would be offered) when the interconnection starts.

This potentially means (as a worst case scenario) at the start of the upcoming interconnection (apparently in a few weeks?) will leave customers already in 12 month contracts unable to usefully purchase individual services from other providers without doubling up on services they already have, although lets see what happens.

du and Etisalat's "real broadband" / eLife packages both come with 12 month contracts. For me as an Etisalat customer this is a problem. If I were to hypothetically sign up for eLife tomorrow, and then du made phone lines available in my area in 6 months time I would be disadvantaged for wanting to use the competitors services because I am in a 12 month contract that forcefully bundles both phone and internet services.

Additionally, du also said on the customer support line that there is no bandwidth limit on their 'real broadband' packages, they have also stated on twitter that there is no fair usage policy.

"6.2.9 Anti-competitive customer lock-in - locking-in customers through unduly long-term contracts, and which by doing so does or may restrict, prevent, or distort competition in a Relevant Market;"

(Taken from TRA Competition Safeguards Policy)

"2.1.2 Where a service is packaged with another service and/or product, licensees shall inform consumers of the price they would pay if they obtained that service and/or product from licensees separately and of any additional conditions or restrictions that apply."
What can you do? There are other TRA policies that do hopefully protect the consumer;
2.2.4 Licensees shall notify consumers individually, at least twenty-eight (28) calendar days prior to any price increase or any change that has the effect of a price increase.
2.2.5 Licensees shall offer consumers the opportunity to terminate their contracts without penalties before an increase in prices takes effect.

This means that when Etisalat changes their price they must announce it to consumers and you have the right to discontinue services without incurring any penalty for terminating your contract. However, as Etisalat seems intent on preventing people from making separate subscriptions to telephone/internet/etc you may find yourselves out of options in a country that supposedly doesn't have a telecommunications monopoly anymore.

Blackberry Shenanigans part 2: Security Forces Boogaloo

Reporters Without Borders is reporting that people have been held for spreading opposition to the government via BlackBerry Messenger...
"The Emirati authorities have been harassing and arresting users of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) who allegedly tried to organise a protest against an increase in the price of gasoline (one of the highest in the Arab world). The protest was eventually called off. BBM user Badr Ali Saiwad Al Dhohori, an 18-year-old resident of Ras Al Khaimah, has reportedly been held in Abu Dhabi since 15 July.
The authorities were able to trace the organiser, known as “Saud,” because he included his BlackBerry PIN in a BBM message he sent calling for the protest. They held Saud for a week and interrogated him to trace those he had been messaging. Accused of inciting opposition to the government, he has lost his job. At least five other members of the group have reportedly been summoned by the police or are still being sought.
“We call for an end to this government witch-hunt against BlackBerry Messenger users who tried to get their fellow citizens to join them in a protest,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These young people did nothing bad. At first they planned a peaceful demonstration but they ended up calling it off because they did not want to break the law. They must not be made to pay for the government’s dispute with BlackBerry’s services, which it cannot control as it would like.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Because they cannot decipher BlackBerry’s encrypted data and thereby gain access to its clients’ personal data, the security forces have decided to intimidate users in order to combat their potential for disseminating information. These summonses must stop. Al Dhohori and others potentially held at the moment in relation to this case must be freed without delay.”
More here: Wave of arrests of BlackBerry Messenger users (Reporters Without Borders)
And here: (localnewsuae) موقع: اعتقال اماراتيين على خلفية دعوتهم لتظاهرة سلمية احتجاجاً على اسعار البنزين

Links via @sultanalqassemi on twitter 

25 July, 2010

Blackberry Shenanigans

The National is reporting that the future of BlackBerry within the UAE may be in doubt...

BlackBerry is operating beyond the UAE law, the government’s official news service reported today, throwing doubt on the future of the mobile email and messaging service.

BlackBerry’s suite of communication services such as e-mail and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) use internal networks that are encrypted under one of the world’s most complex codes.

BlackBerry has about 500,000 subscribers in the Emirates, not counting visitors who roam through the airports.

BlackBerry “operates beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation”, according to a statement issued today by the state-run news service WAM. This is because it “is the only device operating in the UAE that immediately exports its data offshore and is managed by a foreign, commercial organisation”.

“As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions,” the statement added.

More here: BlackBerry is 'beyond the law' says government (The National)

To read some info about the kind of stuff kicking around on BlackBerry Messenger service I recommend taking a look at Sultan Al Qassemi's twitter feed (e.g. this tweet, this tweet and this tweet

And I'm sure we need no reminder of Etisalat's efforts to "spy" on UAE BlackBerry users last year. (link courtesy anon)

EDIT: In case the TRA's claim that they are doing this to "[safeguard] our consumers" sounds familiar, that's because it is the same reasoning they used when trying to explain why Skype is blocked in the UAE.

12 July, 2010

Fuel price to increase again

"Abu Dhabi: Local petroleum products distributors have decided to increase the price of a litre of petrol by 20 fils from Thursday, July 15, at all fueling stations across the UAE.
A statement issued on Monday by the distributing companies said the increase is part of liberalisation of prices and their gradual rise. “The announced rise comes within efforts to gradually mitigate accumulated and growing losses these companies are sustaining due to continuous surge in cost of the product,” the statement added."

More here: Petrol prices to go up by 20 fils (Gulf News)

(Link via AdamFlinter on twitter)

10 July, 2010

Emaar sued for torture and false imprisonment

"Dubai based Emaar Properties best known for building the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, has been sued in California for torture and false imprisonment by American businessman Lionel Lombard. United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Case 2:10-at-00928 LOMBARD v. EMAAR USA et al.

Lombard a former partner in a Dubai public relations firm complained about Apartheid and treatment of foreign workers at one of Emaar’s flagship properties, The Springs. Lombard, an American citizen, was repeatedly harassed by Emaar’s security guards because of his stance. After he took his case directly to Emaar’s chairman, Mohammed Ali Alabbar, Lombard was imprisoned for almost two years, beaten and tortured in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

All charges against Lombard were dropped in February 2010 without explanation. Non citizens are often imprisoned in Dubai at the whim of officials or due to business disputes. Despite attempts by Dubai to portray itself as a progressive business and tourist destination, the reality is that hundreds of non citizens are jailed each year due to minor civil disputes. Emaar and Alabbar became incensed at Lombard after local media picked up his story."

More here: Builder of World’s Tallest Building Accused of Torture & Racism (Peace FM Online)

(link via secretdubai on twitter)

07 July, 2010

A simple fine

Hot on the heels of Abu Dhabi Police giving drivers a 50% discount for fines, Dubai Police has decided to take serious action following reckless driving on Sheikh Zayed Road and award an appropriate fine for endangering the lives of other road users:

"Two motorists who were arrested after shocking videos of dangerous driving in Dubai were posted on YouTube have been fined just dhs1,000 each.
The footage showed a 4x4 vehicle driving down Sheikh Zayed Road on two wheels, while a pick-up truck was performing handbrake turns.
The two Emirati men, thought to be in their 20s, were found guilty of endangering the lives of other road users and were handed the fines by Dubai Court of Misdemeanours today.

The police revealed that the reckless drivers had been part of an organised celebratory procession for fans of Al Wasl Football Club after they won the Gulf Club Champions Cup.
He said that patrols had been at the procession to ensure it happened safely, but they had been at the back of the parade so the cops did not see them."

More here: YouTube drivers escape with a fine (7Days)

EDIT: The National has reported that the court found the police had no case against them for charges of public endangerment.
It also mentions that one of the people is in fact a police officer:
"However, the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours found the 25-year-old policeman, identified as SS, and SG, 20, both Emiratis, not guilty of endangering the public and intentionally endangering motorists."

SMS spam in the UAE finally coming to an end

Mobile phone users in the UAE can now opt out of annoying text message spam, after a ruling from the Telecommunications Regulations Authority (TRA).

Prompted by the anger of millions of mobile phone customers at their days being interrupted by unwanted text message offers of reduced prices at the local supermarket, membership deals at the country club and, perhaps most annoying of all, a bargain text-messaging plan from their mobile service provider, the TRA has brought in a regulation that users must be able to block text spam.

Mohammed al Ghanim, the director general of the regulator, said: “After receiving many complaints from customers about random marketing SMS messages, the TRA decided to introduce this new policy to curb the annoyance such messages cause,” said

After the announcement from the TRA, Etisalat said its customers could opt out of spam messages by texting “b etisalat” to 1011 without paying a penalty. Customers of du can text a blank message to 5293 to block all mobile spam.

Best part of article:
"It is not known whether either company intends to publicise this latest initiative with an SMS marketing campaign."

More here: Block on mobile phone spam for UAE users (The National)

UAE and Iran arguing

"July 7 (Bloomberg) -- Iran may bar trips to the United Arab Emirates after the U.A.E.’s envoy to the U.S. said his country supports military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I hope the government of the U.A.E. will correct this viewpoint,” said Kazem Jalali, the spokesman for the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, according to the state-run Mehr news agency. The U.A.E. should clarify whether the ambassador’s “foul” comments are government policy, he said.
Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said an attack on Iran may be necessary if sanctions fail to halt the country’s nuclear program, and said the U.A.E. would be willing to weather a domestic backlash against such military action, the Washington Times reported yesterday, citing remarks the U.A.E. diplomat made at an event in Aspen, Colorado.
Jalali said tours to the U.A.E. may be suspended “to guard the reputation of the Iranian people,” as Iranians visiting the country are not being treated well. He said spending by Iranian tourists has helped prevent a worse economic crisis in the U.A.E. and especially Dubai."

More here: Iran MP Slams U.A.E. Envoy Remarks, Says Tours May Be Suspended (Business Week)

02 July, 2010

Du, Etisalat, the TRA and the future

According to The National, Du is (finally) soon going to gain access to Etisalat's telecommunications network...
The telecommunications operator du is set to gain access to the network of its rival Etisalat within weeks, ushering in a fresh wave of competition in the phone, internet and television market.

If the move goes ahead as expected, UAE residents will finally have a choice of telecoms providers regardless of where they live.

Etisalat has a monopoly on traditional telephones, internet service and cable TV throughout most of the country, while du services a small area of Dubai that includes newer neighbourhoods such as Dubai Marina and Media City.

“Welcome to competition,” Farid Faraidooni, the chief commercial officer for du, said this week.

The development will be a boon to du, which has been able to offer UAE consumers only mobile and landline services because of regulatory and technical issues.

Here are my personal predictions for broadband internet access and telecommunications in general in the next 12-24 months:
  • Du and Etisalat will begin a price war and heavily reduce the cost of their bundles (i.e. internet/tv/phone bundles) in a short timespan in an effort to gain market share.
  • We will see impossibly ridiculous combinations of high-speed internet with low bandwidth (like Etisalat's connections that you can only use for 6 hours at full capacity in an entire month) In light of bandwidth increases for internet connections it is likely (and already on the way to happening) that we will see people having to pay for additional bandwidth through their teeth (like Telstra in Australia
    used to charge 465 AED per additional GB). Because of these bandwidth restrictions we will be 'heavily reliant' on content provided by Etisalat / Du.
  • They will make it harder to individually purchase services (i.e. a separate internet or separate telephone connection) and harder to purchase services with no obligations.
  • They will both introduce things like yearly contracts, ETF (early termination fees) and start ramping up the fees so we can enjoy full duopoly greatness; the contracts will make it hard for us to move between Etisalat and Du. You can already see that Du's new low priced, high speed connections have a 12 month contract with a 100 AED early termination fee (in my opinion this isn't too bad)
  • While the price of telecommunications will seem to come down, we will all be at the mercy of contracts with our telephone companies and will end up paying heavily for breaching them.
  • Skype will still be cheaper.
  • The TRA will probably say "no comment"
(Of course this is in many cases a worst-case scenario prediction and is just a prediction so take it with a grain of salt. But please do ask Du and Etisalat as much as possible before signing anything and research whatever services you purchase as much as possible before agreeing to anything)

01 July, 2010

50% traffic fine discount in Abu Dhabi

Are you one of the crazy people that believed higher penalties for traffic offences were actually starting to do some good? Fear no more, because in Abu Dhabi (this month only) you can pay your traffic violations with a 50% discount!

"The Abu Dhabi police traffic department announced on Tuesday that motorists will need to pay only half of what they owe in fines to the department following a ministerial decree issued by Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.
The traffic departments in the emirate, which include Abu Dhabi city, Musaffah, Al Ain and Gharbia (western region) have extended their working hours from 7.30am to 12 midnight. During the extended hours, only the fines payment section will function.
The sections in Abu Dhabi and Musaffah started following the new timings from yesterday while the Al Ain section will follow the timings from today.
On Tuesday alone, close to 4,000 people thronged the traffic departments to pay fines.
"More than 3,969 people cleared off their fines at the traffic departments in the emirate, inclusive of Al Ain and Gharbia (western region), on Tuesday," said Colonel Khamis Ishaq Mohammad, Deputy Director of the Traffic and Patrols department."
--More here: Traffic fine slash leads to huge rush (Gulf News)

In addition, the traffic law has been changed so that every emirate can allow discounts on fines!
"The ministerial decree, No.400/2010, issued by Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, has made a provision in the law for traffic departments in all emirates to extend the traffic fines discount to all offenders should they wish to do so, said Brigadier Gaith Hassan Al Za'abi, Director of Traffic Department, Ministry of Interior." --More here: All emirates 'can allow discounts in traffic fines' (Gulf News)

Here are some interesting blog posts from around the UAE on the decision:
-Sale extended to traffic fines (Life in Dubai)
-No Bad Deed Goes Punished (Abu Dhabi Dispatches)
-Best discount price, Habibi (The Grumpy Goat)