By PRINCE OSUAGWU
Nigeria’s telecoms revolution and the over $25bn FDI it brought, among other things, last week, became strong credentials that lured African regulators to Lagos to discuss ways regulatory policies could give hope to African telecom consumers.
This is more so as the conference, powered by Nigeria’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, followed a summit of Commonwealth nations in Abuja ,the previous week, to also discuss how the country would be made launch pad for affordable broadband access in the Commonwealth.
Tagged “First Conference of African Telecom Regulators on Consumer Affairs” the organisers deliberately themed the two-day conference around ‘Harnessing Regulatory Policies to Protect Telecom Consumers in Africa,’
Chief host of the event and Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah in his opening remarks reminded his colleagues that though the potential for growth in the continent’s telecoms sector was huge, if regulators did not begin make haste to shift emphasis from licensing to other obligations like consumer protection, the blessing could easily turn problematic in the future.
Cueing from NCC’s enabling law, Juwah said: “The Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, binds us to three primary stakeholders, namely: the government, operators and the consumers. Of the three however, our position as regulators has always been that the consumer is king because he supplies the fuel that keeps the market in perpetual motion.
“We are charged with the protection and promotion of interests of the consumers against unfair practices including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges for and the availability and quality of communications services, equipment and facilities.’
He flaunted some of the initiatives his commission had put in place to prove that its regulatory policies were consumer centred, including the Consumer Affairs Bureau which he said was established purposely to handle all consumer issues by ensuring that their interests are adequately protected.
General Manager, Consumers Affairs at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Mr. Phosa Mashangoane, agreed that much as regulators were accountable to the government, they must also be accountable to the consumers to earn proper legitimacy.
He said, “the regulators must be accountable to the government and the telecoms consumers. This can be achieved by putting adequate mechanisms in place to educate and protect consumers”
Programme Coordinator, African Telecom Union, ATU, Alice Koech, advised the regulators to interact more with bodies like the ITU to learn the prevailing and emerging best practices.
“We also need robust and more frequent regional and continental ministerial meetings to adopt and review performance of harmonization as well as using case studies that show the benefit of harmonization,” Koech said.
The conference also provided Nigerian operators, through their umbrella organization, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, an opportunity to ventilate their experience wih regulation.
Represented by one Olajide Aremu, ALTON declared that some state governments, including Lagos state, did not have respect for telecom facilities. ” As we speak, one telecom company in Nigeria has up to 180 fibre cuts in a month mostly from government construction projects around the country. But the irony is that even in trying to restore the damaged fibre, they expect the operators to pay before restoring their cables.”