By Prince Osuagwu, Laju Iren & Emmanuel Elebeke
The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC said it could drop the hammer without further warnings on any operator found violating the rule against sending offensive, unwanted and , unsolicited messages to subscribers. The commission which admitted that its office was inundated with complaints from subscribers on the development, has on several occasions warned operators to desist from sending unsolicited texts and calls to subscribers or risk sanctions.
However, despite the repeated warnings, the operators carried on business as usual and now the commission says its hammer will fall on erring operators without further warning. Executive Vice Chairman of the commission, Dr. Eugene Juwah, used the opportunity of a conference organised by the Lagos Chapter of the National Institute of Public Relations, last week, to drive the point home. He also frowned at the persistent drop in the quality of telecommunications services QoS.
Although, Juwah, who was represented by the Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Ojobo explained that inadequate power supply, multiple taxation and regulations, vandalization of telecom infrastructure, right of way challenges, infrastructure deficit among others issues were responsible for poor QoS, he however expressed optimism that these bottlenecks would soon be tackled.
He added that “the commission was working on a framework to sanction service providers for unsolicited text messages. Of course, there are times the operator might need to communicate messages that could be extremely relevant to the subscribers. But we are working on reducing incessant text messaging as a whole.”
He however called on consumers to “take advantage of us so that the operators will not take advantage of you.’ ‘We enlighten the consumers about their rights. As regulators we believe that you as the consumer must insist on your right. Incidentally, telecoms is the only sector where the consumers want the regulators to do everything. But there are other areas like aviation where people do not even know where to complain.
“But in the case of the NCC, there are many options. The first level of complaint is the service provider. If you are not satisfied after making complaint to the service provider, then you can call the NCC on toll free number 622.Between January and now, we have received about 836 complaints. 80% of them have been successfully treated. There is also Mobile Number Portability scheme which gives you the power to fire your service providers but retain your old number. It gives people the power of choice”.
Reasons for poor QoS
He admitted that “Quality of Service currently being experienced is not acceptable but having gone through the rigors of several meetings with operators, it is proper to let the public know that the regulator is not complacent. According to public hearing held by the National Assembly in 2008, power was considered to have contributed more than 40 percent to QoS issues.
‘Telecommunications depend on power to run 24/7. Just as individuals in Nigeria generate their power, so has telecommunications services generated much of the power it utilizes. The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, has put the estimated cost of running two generators in each of the over 25,000 base stations sites in Nigeria today at about N5 billion monthly. ATCON says while Nigeria’s service provider spends 80% OPEX (operating expenses) on power generation, in Malawi, it is just some 5%. This captures the explanation as the service providers would have been in a position to channel more resources to tackling the issues of QoS.’
Multiple taxation and regulation,
Juwah also noted that “we have a very nagging issue of regulations and taxes awaiting the telecom operators at different levels of government. Some of these regulations are made outside of the purview of the telecom regulator. There are states and local governments where telecom infrastructure is seen as fertile ground for improving internally generated revenue as these infrastructures must be available to make services possible. In some areas, state governments, local governments, or even some federal government agencies have had to force a close down of base stations with the implication of disconnecting many localities from the network thereby adding to the QoS challenge”
Right to communication, fundamental
In a related development, there are indications that if Commission puts final touches to its plans of ensuring compliance to the demands of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU that telecommunication be seen as a fundamental human right, one could go to prison in Nigeria for denying anybody the right to telecommunications. This is what actually implies if any fundamental human right is violated.
The NCC, in ensuring that every aspect of digital dividend accrues to the Nigerian, has declared that the subscribers and indeed all Nigerians should become aware of this fact. Director of Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo at a recent forum hosted by the Commission to enlighten telecommunications subscribers on how to enjoy the new life that has come with mobile telecommunication revolution in Nigeria, declared “basically, what we do is to create the enabling environment for telecommunications to grow to be able to provide access.
The International Telecommunications Union has indicated that telecommunications has now become a fundamental human right. This means that wherever you are, you should have access. “When we talk about universal access, we are talking about access to telecommunications within five-metre radius. So our mandate is to ensure there is access to telecommunications for all Nigerians.
“We also set quality of standards. We ensure compliance to those standards and where it is established there has been breaches; of course, the commission imposes some kind of penalties.” He added, “When we talk about telecommunications, people talk about the regular voice communications but it goes beyond that. Now data communication has become key to our lives.
“It includes the transactions you have on the ATM machines. It includes the communications you have with the POS terminals when you go to the supermarket. Now, all of these are services riding on telecommunications. Essentially, what we are saying is that telecommunication is life and it has affected the way we live daily.
Ojobo also noted that the Commission had done so much to support security agencies by establishing a robust data base of telephone users in Nigeria through the concluded Sim Card registration exercise. This databse, he revealed has provided easy way for security agencies to nip phone related crimes in the bud