By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor & Juliet Umeh
There are indications that telecommunications operators, telcos, in the country are planning to raise tariffs on voice calls and data by as much as 40 per cent.
Reliable sources from the operators who confirmed the plans to Vanguard said it was due to high cost of diesel to operate their businesses, incessant harassments and frivolous taxes and levies imposed on them by all manner of agencies from the three tiers of government.
The telcos who spoke to Vanguard on the issue said the issue is being handled by their umbrella body, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, ALTON.
Vanguard reliably gathered that ALTON has already sent a letter to the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, seeking upward review of tariffs by 40 percent.
If approved, the services that will be affected include voice calls, short message services, SMS, and data services.
It means that the telcos want the average 11k per second, N8.95 per minute current cost of voice calls jerked up to N12.53 while short message services will move from N4.00 to N5. 61.
This also means that a subscriber who spends 30 minutes on a call will have to cough out approximately N376 while those who spend one hour will have to pay at least N752.
ALTON’s letter to NCC highlighted a few operational issues which the regulator should consider to approve the request.
They include rising cost of business operations due to high cost of diesel, and other energy sources, recent introduction of excise duty of five per cent on telecoms services, and increased burden of multiple taxes and levies on the industry. The telcos say these increments have jerked their operating expenses by over 35 per cent.
Tariff hike not done on sentiment — NCC
However, a reliable source at the NCC said as much as the Commission sympathises with the conditions which have increased operating costs, tariff increment is not done with sentiment.
The source said: “I am aware that the ALTON sent in a letter with a demand for increment in tariffs, but there is a process which is rigorously taken before increments are made on tariff.
“The current tariff they are currently operating with went through that rigour. So, even if their demand will be considered, it will also take a process which is not going to encourage an instant implementation” he added.
Part of ALTON’s letter sighted by Vanguard read: “As the commission may be aware, the power sector under the supervision of its Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission in November 2020 undertook a review of electricity tariffs to cater for the economic headwinds.
“In view of the foregoing, ALTON considers it expedient for the telecommunications sector to undergo periodic cost adjustments through the commission’s intervention to minimise the impact of the challenging economic issues faced by our members.
“Details are: Upward review of the price determination for voice and data and SMS. Given the state of the economy and the circa 40 per cent increase in the cost of doing business, we wish to request an interim administrative review of the mobile (voice) termination rate for voice; administrative data floor price, and cost of SMS as reflected in extant instruments.
“With respect to voice and SMS cost, ALTON respectfully requests the commission to consider a mark-up approach to address the upward price adjustment desirable for the industry. We have enclosed herein and marked Annexure 1 of our proposal in that regard.
“For data services, we wish to request that the commission implements the recommendations in the August 2020 KPMG report on the determination of cost-based pricing for wholesale and retail broadband service in Nigeria. Excerpts from the report are attached and marked Annexure 2 to provide a further illustration.
“In implementing the said recommendations, however, we recommend that the 40 per cent increase in the cost of doing business be factored in to arrive at a cost price per Gigabyte in view of the current economic situation.”
The group also highlighted other demands to the commission such as to explore other penalties for operators other than punitive monetary sanctions, extend the payment timeline of relevant regulatory levies and fees, prevail on the Federal Government to sign the executive order declaring telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure to mitigate cost spent replacing damaged and stolen infrastructures, among others.
It added that the Mobile (Voice) Termination Rate (MTR) for voice, administrative data floor price and cost of SMS as reflected in extant instruments should also be increased.
The ALTON letter added: “For large operators, a new interim MTR of N5.46 from N3.90 reflecting 40 per cent increase in the cost of business. “For small operators, the new interim MTR of N6.58 from N4.70 reflects a 40 per cent increase in the cost of business.”
A reliable source and senior official of ALTON who also confirmed the letter, said: “Although we did not intend that this will be a media issue, I can confirm to you that we sent a letter to the NCC requesting upward review of tariffs.
“But this shouldn’t come to you as a surprise. We have always intimated that this is the only way to go, considering prevailing circumstances.
“Recall that while approaching the Federal Government to intervene on indiscriminate clamp down on our facilities, particularly the recent one in Kogi over frivolous taxes and levies by all manner of agencies, we did warn that we may be forced to increase tariffs.
“What has happened now is that as law-abiding citizens and responsible corporate entities, we are going about it the appropriate, responsible and legal way.
“For us to serve you well, we must first of all be in business,” he added.
For the Executive Director, Paradigm Initiatives Nigeria, Mr Gbenga Sesan, said: “The holy alliance the operators entered with ministry of communications and digital economy on the bad NIN-SIM linkage policy has come to haunt them.
“The effect of that bad policy is what they are reacting to. They should have stood their ground that the policy was not right, instead of compromising their knowledge.
“If they increase prices, people will adjust. Already we are used to telephone communications. What will suffer is the aggregate economy, which is why we didn’t want that evil policy in the first place.
“The Over the top operators will now gain ground because people will call more on whatsapp and other Voice over internet protocol platforms than normal voice calls.
“That is where the revenue that was supposed to accrue for government will go to people who do not have physical presence in our economy.”