27 May 2012

Nigeria: NCC, GSM Operators and the Future of Mobile Phone in Country

The telecoms industry has been in the eye of the storm since its inception in 2001, as Nigerians have been bearing the brunt of high call tariff and poor quality service, NCC after a long silence wielded the big stick on the network operators. Uche Uduma assessed the situation.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was created in 1992 with the responsibility of seeing to the provision of minimum quality of service standards for the telecommunications industry, ensuring that consumers continue to have access to high quality telecommunications service by setting quality levels for all operators.

It is also saddled with the responsibility of setting standards for technical issues such as transmission rates, error rates, call completion rates, and commercial consumer issues such as access to customer care centres, billing integrity and other characteristics that can be measured and improved.

At the commencement, NCC had only NITEL to regulate. However, with the inception of GSM network and subsequent spread of mobile telephones, its responsibilities multiplied. From the onset, telecommunication in Nigeria was plagued with hitches.

The telecommunication operators went into operation with the hope that NITEL facilities could cater for their operation, only to discover that the facilities in place could leverage its operation. The operators had no option but to acquire new equipment and had to pay heavy tax to bring in the equipment which the government was to provide for them.

Apart from the issue of infrastructure, the licences given out to the telecoms operators did not come cheap, as they paid heavy amount of money to get licence to operate in Nigeria. With these additional burdens imposed on the telecoms operators by the government, the operators were forced to push the additional burden imposed on them by the government on to their subscribers.

The impediments encountered by the telecommunications operators, however, did not deter them from doing extremely well.

The network operators recorded remarkable increase in the number of their subscribers from 45,000 lines in 2002 to 78.8 million subscribers in 2010 hitting an all-time high of 50 per cent-plus, thereby making them the third largest subscriber base in the world. Despite the high cost of running their businesses in Nigeria, they have continued to record huge profits at the end of each business year.

Given the huge market the telecoms industry has in Nigeria, which is about 160 million in population, Nigeria undoubtedly is considered a home for telecoms industry. In view of this, it is expected that GSM operators would stop at nothing to ensure qualitative services to their customers. However, inefficient and exploitative services by the GSM operators have been the bane of mobile telephony in the country.

Nigerians have overtime decried the manner in which they are short-changed by these foreign-based operators as they are painfully paying high tariff for inefficient services. One can barely complete a call without getting a call drop, poor quality of voice signal, poor reception, error in connection and poor inter-connectivity with other networks.

The number of call drops in a N100 recharge card is almost 30 per cent, yet money lost cannot be refunded. The question still remains; if at all there should be call drop or poor reception why would the consumers be charged for such services. Again there is the issue of wrongful deductions from people's account balance. The network providers have devised several unsavoury means to pilfer money from people's account balance.

For example while making a call, a voice prompt can tell you to press one if you like the caller tune, once the subscriber presses the number, N50 will be deducted from the person's account and it is always an uphill task to get hold of customer care services to resolve such issues. This case is just one of the numerous cases of wrongful deductions made by service providers. Charges are frequently deducted from people's account balance for unsubscribed services such as caller tunes, browsing plans, etc.

Undoubtedly, the worrying quality of services provided by the GSM operators call for a more efficient regulatory system as service delivery obtainable in Nigerian telecoms industry cannot be compared with what is obtainable in other countries of the world where one can comfortably talk on the phone at length without worrying about the cost, knowing that the calls are cheap.

Countries like UK and Vietnam have 24 hours unfailing network service and calls are considerably cheap. Customer care service is readily available not only to receive complaints but also to proffer instant solution to the problem experienced by the customers.

Any network regulator worth its ball shouldn't have turned a blind eye, and blatantly refuse to sanction the telecoms operators who have been dishing out abusive services to subscribers who form the bulk of their business.

Apparently, NCC seems to have woken up to its responsibilities, by wielding the big stick on the telecoms operators for the first time in 10 years, by slamming MTN, GLO, Etisalat and Airtel a N1.17 billion fine over poor services.

The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Eugene Juwah, worried by the poor quality of services obtainable in Nigeria, promised to tackle the incessant problem of service quality and ensure consumers get better deals as well as foster the growth of telecoms in Nigeria.

NCC monitored the quality of service standards of the telecommunication operators for the two months and discovered varying degrees of failure by the operators to meet the minimum standard of quality of service delivered to subscribers.

The NCC April 2012 Audit Report shows that MTN, Etisalat and Airtel failed to meet the Commission's target during the months of March and April this year,when the regulator undertook the review. Consequently MTN earned for itself N360 million sanction, Etisalat N360 million, Airtel N270 million and GLO N180 million.

As NCC has woken up to its responsibilities, it is hoped that they will not just stop at sanctioning these telecommunications companies but should withdraw their licences if they fail to comply with the regulation. Again their searchlight should also be beamed on the tariff charged by these telecoms companies.

Leonard Bravo lewewchukwu, a telecoms expert in Abuja, while speaking with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY recently, pointed out the challenges facing the telecoms industry in Nigeria. According to him: "The way telecoms is practised in Nigeria is quite different from the way it is practised all over the world. Things are not in place, neither are things done the right way.

When the mobile telecoms companies were coming into Nigeria, it was obvious that (NITEL) promised that the infrastructures they had on ground would be able to carry the GSM operations".He said that the mobile providers entered the business only to find that the NITEL facilities could not leverage them very well.

He pointed out, however, that when the network operators complete "linking all the base stations with fibre it is going to be a perfect solution to call drops".

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