A recent lamentation by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that major GSM providers were ignoring its directives to stop promotional swindles and poor services signals that the regular has perhaps lost its teeth to protect innocent subscribers. The report of NCC’s monitoring of key performance indicators published October 8 2014 had noted that giant MTN and GLO, in particular, had persistently defied all cautions to stop violating directives on anti-competition, rip-off tariffs, failure to meet service quality prescriptions as well as refusing blatantly to obey the ban on bogus promotions.
However, the toothless regulatory NCC said it “may consider” imposing sanctions on some GSM operators for persistently infringing on its regulations. It is tragic that while subscribers are paying about N1 billion daily for miserable services or service not rendered, all the NCC says is to consider sanctions. What has become of the promise of the Minister of Communications, Mrs Omobola Johnson, who announced Federal government’s threat to prosecute from January 1, 2014 recalcitrant and greedy GSM network operators over piteous service and promotional swindles, operators’ impunity, a piteous services?.
Omobola Johnson had on December 16 2013 threatened to stop shoddy GSM operators from selling further the Subscriber Identity Module, SIM, cards from last Dec 31. Said the minister, “Non-provision of good service to subscribers would now be attracting necessary court actions where the management of the companies would be prosecuted by the CPC, where cases of consumer abuse by the operator is established”.
Her words, “Subscribers are daily faced with poor network service delivery that make it impossible for consumers to receive calls, induced drop calls, unsustainable calls, unsolicited text messages at odd hours, unsolicited telemarketing calls, deceptive broadband speed advertisements by some service providers and failed service delivery without compensation to consumers”.
Mrs Johnson added that mobile phones users were short-changed through “insufficient customer care lines, unrelenting sales promotions despite poor network service delivery, non compensation to consumers for loss of airtime and poor service, network insecurity characterised by uncontrollable interruptions on networks by unidentifiable third parties”.
Telecommunication stakeholders including association of telecom subscribers have had serious cause to lament that the weakness of the regulatory agency in curbing swindles and rip-off by telecom firms who are also complaining of harsh economic environment making difficult network expansion to boost quality.
However, it is more tragic that the regulatory agency, the NCC, in the past pocketed proceeds of the hundreds of millions fines for operators poor quality service instead of sharing to the cheated subscribers forced to pay for unsuccessful services. More lamentable is the excuse of NCC that its operating laws do not permit it to share the fines collected to subscribers, a task which the National assembly should take up immediately to amend NCC laws to make for compensation for failed services and protect consumers from greedy telecoms operators who deliberately overload and incapacitate their network capacity with dubious promotions and lotteries.
It is instructive that the operators too are constrained by harsh economic clime of grossly inadequate and unreliable electricity supply, which has necessitated huge expenditures in billions of naira to provide alternative power, which are now being threatened because of poor security and policing countrywide. Government has to address multiple taxations by all the three tiers of government, improve power and strengthen NCC with the wherewithal to check the GSM operators passing the cost of their inefficiency to subscribers, while NCC profits from the lacuna.
However, the Communications Minister said government was addressing challenges facing telephony operators, including vandals damaging their base stations and facilities, high cost of right of way permits and perhaps multiple taxations, by working with the ministry of works and state governments. Nevertheless, the minister remarked, “Using the excuse of the problems in the operating environment to (justify) poor quality of service by the operators will no longer be acceptable”.
The National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS) has repeatedly demanded compensation for users of deplorable mobile telephone networks countrywide. The telecoms consumers’ right group had in a letter to the NCC demanded N597 billion at N5,000 for each of the 119 million subscribers for drop and incomplete calls .
Nevertheless, we encourage Minister Johnson to match his words with action to stop operators concentrating on dubious lotteries instead of on quality service and expanding subscribers beyond network capacity. It is tragic that government tolerated the unwholesome and prolonged malpractices. NCC must henceforth introduce a policy, which forbids operators from assaulting subscribers with unsolicited promos and lotteries.
Therefore, government and regulator must not allow a few operators to constitute a cartel or a quasi monopoly to the detriment of national interest. There is urgency in licensing more GSM operators to deepen competition and prevent cartelisation of the industry.