THE era of unsolicited text messages, unscrupulous text-marketing and underhand manipulation of subscribers to pay for Value Added Services without consent will soon become a thing of the past if the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has its way. The regulator has declared a war on the abuse of consumers’ right to make a choice from the bouquet of services on offer by mobile operators. The NCC has been inundated with complaints from consumers on the multiplicity of practices that are not in sync with global best practices in the Value Added Services (VAS) market.
Last month the NCC organised a stakeholders meeting to kick-off the conversation on how to smoothen rough edges of the mobile VAS segment of the market. The Commission made its objective crystal clear by announcing to the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), MVAS, subscribers and their advocacy groups that the NCC was about to have a regulatory framework for the management of the segment in question.
From all indications, the NCC was disturbed that the operators have gone overboard with certain practices in the handling of the VAS services. This is what compelled the NCC to wade in on the side of mobile consumers in Nigeria in order to stem the tide of unethical practices by the MNOs and VAS providers who seemed to have thrown caution to the wind in the ultimate desire to increase their revenue streams by luring customers with contracts that some say are questionable.
The Executive Vice chairman of the NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, is not happy with this. Juwah sounded the note of warning at the meeting on how the industry can collaborate to put a halt to the perennial abuses in the VAS market. The Executive Commissioner for Stakeholder Management, Dr. Okechukwu Itanyi, who spoke for the EVC, was unambiguous about the intentions of the NCC.
He said that the Commission was not oblivious of the fact that MNOs were under intense pressure from crashing revenue streams in the voice market, hence the shift of attention to the VAS market which is the new area where MNOs and MVAS are creaming off profits. But as the industry police, the regulator said it has the mandate to take consumer protection a notch higher by establishing a regulatory framework for the VAS segment of the market given the perceived recklessness of some of the operators. The Commission situated the VAS segment as very critical portion of the mobile ecosystem given its current market worth of $200 million and with the potential to grow to $500 million in the next couple of years.
While the Commission is not against innovative means of increasing revenue uptakes, the regulatory body has made it clear that it will not stand by and allow consumers to be subject of sharp practices by service providers. The NCC observed that some of the activities of the MNOs and MVAS deviated from acceptable international best practices in VAS delivery.
The EVC said that the concerns of the Commission were not without basis. “The Commission has received avalanche of complaints from Nigerian subscribers regarding forceful activation of various value added services by service provider without explicit consent. Worse still, these services are auto-renewed resulting to perpetual lock-in of subscribers by the VAS provider,” Juwah said.
“We have also witnessed high level of telemarketing, especially unsolicited messages by mobile network operators/value added service operators soliciting for subscription for their services most time constituting nuisance to consumers.”
The EVC noted that in some cases subscribers were lured by free trials that were not free at all. “Subscribers are given service for free for a certain period, only to be automatically charged for these services after the expiration of the trial period without their consent.”
All stakeholders had their say. The representatives of the MNOs, MVAs and consumers all made contributions on how to sanitise the MVAS segment and create a fair and equitable environment of the VAS operations. They all endorsed the plan by NCC to set up an industry working group for a framework for running the VAS sector in Nigeria. The MVAs were represented by Demola Seriki, a former Minister of State for Defence, the president of WASPAN, Simon Aderinlola and the MNOs: Airtel, Etisalat, MTN and Glo.happy wheels