Senate, IG of Police
Nigerian Senate

…Asks GSM operators in the country to refund to their customers money paid on drop calls

…As Senate, Fashola descend on NCC for defending telecom coys

…We have recorded an average of 1,065 destructions to telecommunications cables monthly in 2019, NCC

By Henry Umoru

THE Senate has begun investigation into networks provided by the Global Systems for Mobile Communications, GSM operators in the Country over increasing rate of drop calls.

Consequently, the Senate has asked all the GSM operators in the country to as a matter of urgency, refund to their customers all the  money which they paid on drop calls.

Declaring open Senator Oluremi Tinubu, APC, Lagos Central led Joint Public Hearing of Senate Committees on Communications, Trade and Investment, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan who took a swipe at the service providers, said that for quite a long time, the GSM service providers in the country have shortchanged their customers through drop calls.

The public hearing followed a motion titled: Increasing rate of drop calls and other unwholesome practices by telecom networks operators in Nigeria that have robbed Nigerians of their hard earned billions of naira.

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The public hearing was held sequel to a resolution of the Senate last July mandating the two committees to jointly investigate the allegations of cheating through drop calls by the communications network operators.

Lawan said, “The drop calls shortchange consumers. To me, it’s a very serious issue and we have been with it since as far as I can remember. We have been shortchanged for a long time. We consider this development unacceptable.

“We mandated our committees to thoroughly investigate the issue of drop calls. This is in the interest of the people we represent. And even the people who only come to Nigeria either for tourism or business or whatever.

“What happens in Nigeria, especially as far as the attitude and behavior of the service providers hardly happens anywhere in the world.

“What MTN does in Nigeria, MTN doesn’t do that in South Africa. All other service providers are also culpable. We have witnessed it for years. Maybe the time has come for us to reject it. Going forward, it’s not only making it better, but what happened to all the money that we paid for no service rendered.

“I think the committee should insist on what happens to all the money people in this country paid for no service. Other countries give money back. But here you denied us and you don’t give one Kobo.

“So this public hearing is not going to be like the other previous ones. Everybody complain of drop calls except the operators because that is booming business for them.

“And the kind of market that we have in Nigeria, is such that you don’t have this market anywhere in the world. When a Nigerian will have three lines, yet we don’t get the service that we paid for

The President of the Senate who also accused the regulatory authority, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) of not doing enough to check the sharp practices by the service providers, said, “NCC will have to sit up because NCC, sometimes, is either inept or it is simply flowing with the service providers.

“So we want to see a situation that this public hearing will provide a way out to save us as Nigerians. That when we pay for services, we get value for money. That is business.Maybe it’s difficult to say if you can’t perform, get out of the country, maybe it’s difficult but it is not impossible.

“Whoever will provide better Service, I think Nigerians will be better advised to use that service whatever it takes and whoever is not, Nigerians should avoid such service provider. But at the moment, all the service providers are involved in these drop calls.”

Meanwhile, the Senate and the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, SAN yesterday lampooned the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, accusing the regulatory agency of over protecting the Telecommunications Service Providers operating in the Country to the detriment of Nigerians

The Senate and the Minister tonguelashed them for protecting the telecoms companies over increasing cases of dropped calls which has robbed Nigerians billions of naira.

Trouble started when earlier in his remarks during the hearing, the Executive Vice Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer,  NCC, Professor Umar Garba Dambatta  had accused the federal ministry of works of contracting out construction of projects to contractors who cut cables of telecom companies, resulting to the drop calls.

Danbatta who was represented by NCC Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity, Engr. Bako Wakil told the Senate that the telecoms Service providers have become victims of multiple taxation by states and federal governments.

Wakil who also cited cases of cutting of cables and vandalisation of telecoms installations by criminals due to insecurity, said that with the overstretched subscribers base, it was not easy for telecom service providers to provide the required capacity of infrastructure to adequately cover the country.

The NCC told the Committee that it has  recorded an average of 1,065 destructions to telecommunications cables monthly in 2019, just as it said that  fibre destructions were among the reasons for incessant drop calls experienced by telecom consumers.

According to Wakil,  drop calls was due to insufficient infrastructure, security challenges, multiple regulations and taxation, high cost of right of ways for laying of cables, and difficulty in getting approval to site base stations, adding that  sealing of base stations by state governments, damage to telecom cables by construction works, theft of batteries and generators powering base stations, and access denial by host communities were also responsible  for that.

The Director who noted that there were incidences of bandits cutting cables along the road deliberately, hide by the bush and then kidnap or rub maintenance team going there for repairs,  said that once there was  a fibre cut or a base station is down after 6 pm, the repairers won’t move to site because of insecurity.

Wakil who explained that the suspension of fuel supplies to border communities had caused the shutting of over 200 base stations, while average of 210 thefts of batteries were recorded in 2019, said, “These factors were responsible for drop calls and poor service quality and they don’t happen any else except in Nigeria.”

He further blamed the state and federal government for the high cost of right of ways, saying that in some states, it is five thousand per meter, while it can be higher in some others, adding  that in a particular month, they recorded one thousand and sixty five fiber cable cuts, even as he listed banditry, intermittent shutdown of service stations by state agents, border closure policy of government which hinders gas supply to installations in border communities, poor power supply, as part of the causes of drop calls, saying that such challenges happen only in Nigeria.

Responding,  Fashola who took a swipe at the NCC, said that government over the past twenty years had divested in state assets, just as he stressed  that laws have also been made within the period to  ensure adequate regulations, emphasizing that the leader of the regulatory agency has enormous powers and must have a different nationalistic mindset if it must succeed in the tax.

According to the Minister, the defence of double taxation by the state and federal government on telecoms companies is ill-conceived, saying that such should not be coming from NCC that should regulate the companies.

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Fashola who dispelled the claim by NCC that there was poor power supply to the telecoms companies, however reminded the senate that telecoms companies were asked to purchase their powers directly from the generating companies and bypass the distribution companies, yet they refused.

Visibly angry over the submissions  by the NCC, Fashola who  urged the senate to invite more technical people to help them understand what is actually happening with regards to the drop calls,  revealed that at the onset of telecoms deregulation, the telecoms companies were asked to co-locate their cables, masts and installations, for better security, cheaper right of way and to avoid cutting of cables by contractors, but they refused and rather went to court to challenge government.

The Minister of Works who noted that there was the need for better coordination between NCC and his ministry for laying  and protection of telecommunications cables on major roads,  said that though there were accidental damage to cables by construction works, but blamed them on the failure of telecom companies to mark places where cables were laid.

Vanguard

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