By Juliet Umeh
The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has assured the general public that none of the over 160million telecoms subscribers in Nigeria will be disconnected or suffer service disruptions as a result of its recent order to permit the disconnection of indebted operators from other operators’ networks.
This assurance was given in Abuja recently by NCC’s Executive Commissioner for Stakeholder Management, Mr. Sunday Dare.
Dare clarified that the approval given by the NCC was not for any network to disconnect subscribers as being wrongly presented in some media, but for some creditor networks to restrict services to debtor networks.
He stated that “the NCC is a consumer-centric regulator; the protection of our consumers and the sustainability of the industry are the primary drivers of our activities. So in this case, even before we granted the permission for disconnection, we had put some very stringent safety valves in place to protect consumers and ensure that they continue to enjoy uninterrupted service while we address the very serious issue of indebtedness in the industry.”
Giving a background to the issue of disconnection of networks, Dare stated that “over the years, the industry has been plagued with the very serious problem of interconnect and facility indebtedness. Some operators have racked up huge debts to others and have simply refused to pay.
Now, we understand that there are ecosystem issues affecting all operators and we are working with all stakeholders to resolve these issues, but the level of indebtedness in the industry is at an embarrassingly high level, and the whole telecoms industry is at risk of failure if we do not act.”
He regretted that: “This kind of problem should ideally not occur in an industry where over 90 per cent of consumers are pre-paid. We had held several meetings with the parties and given several deadlines for the debtors to pay, to no avail.
The Nigerian Communications Act of 2003 contains very strict consumer protection measures which we have continued to uphold, such as the requirement that no operator can disconnect another operator without the written approval of the NCC. But it appears that some operators were taking undue advantage of this provision by racking up millions, sometimes billions of naira in debts to other operators, denying their creditors of funds to expand their networks and putting the industry in peril.”