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Sunday, 8 February 2015

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Errant phone traders out to dupe customers

It was Nishantha's dream to go for a sophisticated smart phone which would not only make him proud but also enable him to try new things and be a head of his colleagues. But being a labourer at the Colombo Port, his paltry salary did not enable him to go for his dream phone that would cost him a fortune.

He had to apply for an instant loan to buy the desired mobile phone which would cost him around Rs.60, 500.

He got a good price for the phone at a shop in Pettah. For an unknown reason the shop owner gave him a discount of Rs.20, 000 although the real price of the phone was Rs.80, 500.

Delighted with the offer Nishantha did not stop buying only one. He bought a phone for his partner as well to whom he had planned to marry in the near future. He had to borrow some money from a friend for the marriage.

Proud to own a smart phone with a modern touchpad, Nishantha went home with immense happiness to try out his posh toy. He had to first charge the phone for five hours as instructed by the shopkeeper before making any calls.

But his happiness was short-lived as he had accidentally inserted the charger pin in a wrong way, causing the phone to stop functioning.

With a grim face he rushed back to the phone shop to complain about the problem but to his amazement the shop owner refused to help him saying that it was not his problem.

Having lost hope in the shop owner he then lodged a complaint at the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) advised by a superior at his workplace. There he explained his grievance to the Director Compliance, Menaka H Pathirana who gave a patient hearing to his problem.


Director TRCSL Compliance, Menaka H Pathirana

Realizing what could have happened, the Directress asked Nishantha whether the instrument had been 'Type Approved' by the TRCSL. Since he had no idea about it she summoned both parties to inquire the matter.

When questioned, the shop owner admitted that the phone he had sold to Nishantha had not been Type Approved by the TRC which is a violation of the Vendor License.

Mobile phone sellers have to obtain vendor license from the TRC. According to Sri Lanka

Telecommunications Act No. 25 of 1991, as amended by the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Amendment Act No. 27 of 1996 a vendor license is mandatory to sell telecommunication apparatus.

The license should be renewed every year with a fee of over Rs.12, 000. A trader has to consent to 21 conditions according to the license.

Under section three and four of the conditions the licensee would agree to "Only telecommunication apparatus type approved by the Commission to be imported by the licensee. The import of used telecommunication apparatus are permitted" and "The importation of telecommunication apparatus shall only be channeled through the controller of Imports and Exports on the written authorisation of the Commission".

Each and every phone being imported for sale has to be registered with the TRCSL according to the vendor license conditions. To do this the vendors have to obtain the TRCSL approval to clear the consignment from the Customs at the airport.

When a vendor imports a consignment he has to produce the catalogs of the imported phones to the TRCSL technical unit, which will decide whether the phones met the requirements of the import specifications. Due to certain specifications some phones cannot be imported to Sri Lanka due to security or technical reasons.

When the catalogs are produced by a vendor the technical team of the TRCSL would check the IMEI numbers of the phones and add them to a local system so that they will be registered with the TRCSL.

An IMEI number is a unique figure around the world which makes it possible to track any device at any time by the authorities. The TRC has a service to check whether a mobile phone is registered with them. Anybody could send their phone's IMEI number to 1909 (free TRC service) to know whether the particular phone is being registered with the TRC. When the imported phones are registered the TRCSL would issue a certificate requesting the Customs to release the goods as they meet the import specifications. The vendor could then sell the device with a sticker stating 'Type Approved'..

The public is always advised to buy genuine products from a shop that has TRC approved Vendor License and whether the phone's IMEI number is registered. The shops that are registered with the TRCSL should display its Vendor License clearly to the public as well as the 'Type Approved' tags of the items to be sold or displayed.

When Director Pathirana checked with the shop owner who sold the phone to Nishantha it was learnt that the product was not Type Approved. Therefore, it cannot be considered a genuine product or an original brand.

Another advantage of checking for the 'Type Approved' tag is to determine whether the phone is not a fake product. The TRCSL would neither approve a fake or pirated device to be imported nor to be sold in the country.

In Nishantha's case it was realized that the phone sold by the vendor with such a massive discount was not a genuine phone. Although it had a popular brand name it was discovered later that it was a substandard device made in a another country.

Since the shop was a registered one and the vendor had violated the regulations of the license he agreed to reimburse the money charged from Nishantha. But this was not the only case.

Few weeks ago another person lodged a complaint with the commission that his phone although it claimed to be the latest water proof one, it never did so. The buyer had tested his phone in a swimming pool to understand that immediately the water seeped into his expensive device.

Then also when checked with the vendor the mobile was not a 'Type Approved' phone. And the money had been returned to the buyer.

According to Director Pathirana around ten such cases were reported in the last year alone where the aggrieved parties were assisted to get their money back spent on substandard or fake devices.

At present there are 866 mobile phone vendors countrywide being registered under the TRCSL. But one cannot help not notice the number of mobile phone shops in every nook and corner of a town with eye-catching boards to attract customers.

And sometimes people will not even hesitate to spend a fortune for something which they do not really require but would go for a phone to please themselves of having a posh device compared to the one owned by their colleagues.

"No matter whatever phone one wants to buy, he or she should first check the assurances than having to regret later",, She said.

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