THE Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); the telecommunications industry regulator has declared 2017 as the year of the telecommunications consumers. This should not come as a surprise to discerning industry pundits who have agonised about the incongruous relationship between telecoms consumers and service providers. On the face value, the declaration of 2017 as the year of the customers by the telecoms regulator is a noble philosophy to say the least. This idea is one of the high points of the eight-point agenda that underscores the strategic initiatives of Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), NCC, when he assumed office in 2015.
But are the consumers particularly excited at such exoteric reflection of the expectations of the growing tribes of telecommunications users across the land? Beyond the subliminal interpretation of the strategic importance of the regulator’s initiative aimed at harmonising the expectations, service realities and regulatory intervention, it is fair to dissect and place in proper perspectives the concerns and agonies of the telecoms consumers.
What are the issues underpinning such distastes that telecoms users have for their service providers? Where have the service providers including Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) such as MTN Nigeria, Bharti Airtel Nigeria, Glo Nigeria, Etisalat Nigeria and ntel as well as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Smile Communications, Spectranet, and InterC among others over stepped their bounds in the relationship with consumers. The outcry and angst against the Mobile Value-Added Service (MVAS) providers is more pronounced against the MNOs, perhaps, because of the dominance of the market where it has the lion share. And the disgust of the consumers cascades to MTN, Airtel, Glo, Etisalat and ntel in descending orientation, perhaps, relative to their share of the market.
Drop calls, vanishing credits, service outages, bad orientation of call centre agents and poor call completion rate used to be the challenges with the Quality of Service (QoS) at the onset of GSM operations in Nigeria in 2001. But the advances in technology and service possibilities with the introduction of value added services have increased the pain points of consumers who have not spared expletives splurge on their service providers. Today, the concerns are more around connectivity issues of data buffering when consumers try to download, disgust with USSD codes, data and voice call plans with auto renewal services, ring back tunes and caller tunes services, unsolicited SMSs. Some consumer right groups have created hashtags campaigns to fight the inadequacies of the QoS and discontent with the products and service delivery by operators. Some consumers have continued to express umbrage over the automatic transfer of their calls to voice mails without an option to accept an offer. Other consumers too have not spared the operators harsh words for ‘forceful’ subscriptions to VAS products through backend manipulation of USSD codes for unsuspecting customers. And such consumers are disoriented that even in cases when the operators provided options for opting out of VAS products, but in practical terms, the customer is technically stopped from opting out.
To tackle this monster in the telecoms market, the NCC had plunged headlong into the issue creating a directorate on consumer affairs, set up call centre with dedicated short codes, and introduced consumer parliament with sessions holding in all regions of the country. Yet, the hydra-headed monster refused to be caged. But the perception of NCC on its regulatory mandate took a different twist with the coming of Danbatta when he slammed an unprecedented fine of $5.2 billion on MTN Nigeria over allegations of regulatory infractions of incomplete SIM registrations of 5.1 million lines. That singular action jolted the nation and the international community into frenzy on the readiness of the regulator to bark and bite justifiably within regulatory mandate.
But is the declaration of 2017, the year of the telecoms consumers, by the no-nsense regime of Danbatta another joker up his sleeve? Now that the NCC is stepping up the campaign, will this inspire the service providers to also step up the plate by higher service delivery and improved customer satisfaction? More importantly, will the consumers seize the golden opportunity of this declaration to frontally harness their worries and concerns in a coordinated fashion through the various consumer rights and advocacy groups?
With baited breathe, the world awaits Danbatta’s surprise for the telecoms consumers as the golden voices of 155 million consumers is expected to rule the waves