16 December 2012

Nigeria: Revisiting NCC's Ban On Telecoms Promos

With the ban on all Telecoms promos by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), subscribers, operators and analysts have called on the regulator to take another look at the issues that led to the blanket ban inorder to review the decision. CHIMA AKWAJA looks at the contending issues.

Shortly before it imposed an indefinite ban on all GSM operators from running consumer promotions and lotteries on their networks, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had just conducted yet another quality of service check on the operators. This is in line with its mandate which empowers the regulatory agency to ensure that the licensees meet required standards from time-to-time.

What is however, of concern to industry watchers is that the outcome of the survey did not seem to have influenced the decision of the agency in deciding on a blanket ban on promotions and lotteries which affected all operators, irrespective of their performance as discovered by NCC itself.

Known as the Nationwide Benchmark Drive Test, it was conducted by NCC and covered July to September, 2012 for the four major operators, namely MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat. The first of its kind, the test captured the Call Completion Rate, which encompasses the major network KPI (call drop and congestion). Service providers were ranked in Lagos and the six geo-political zones of south-west, south-east, south-south, north central, north-east and north-west.

In its most recent Audit Report, NCC had rated Airtel as the best operator for good quality of service based on the NCC's Audit Report for March and April 2012. According to the report, Airtel, which has experienced ownership crises that necessitated several name changes since it berthed in Nigeria in 2001, recorded impressive performances when compared with the commission's target on four crucial parameters namely Call Set-up Success Rate (CSSR), Call Completion Rate (CCR), Drop Call Rate (DCR) and Traffic Channel Congestion (TCH).

According to the Drive Test report, Airtel again proved its worth. It ranked No. 1 in the three regions of south-south (88 per cent), south-west (88 per cent) and north-east (78 per cent). In the other regions, Airtel came second - Lagos (88 per cent), north-central (92 per cent), north-west (82 per cent) and south-east (75 per cent).

Etisalat, on its part despite being the latest GSM operator and with just a four-year experience in the Nigerian market, also confirmed its standard. It had been rated best telecommunications service provider for good quality of service by the NCC based on the Quality of Service Key Performance Indicator audit report released in February 2012.

In the Benchmark Drive Test, Etisalat polled behind Airtel in south-south having recorded 86 per cent, south-west (82 per cent) and north-east (67 per cent). It also recorded first position in the other regions - north-central (94 per cent), Lagos (92 per cent), north-west (90 per cent) and south-east (85 per cent) - with Airtel coming second in each of these areas.

On its part, MTN finished third in north-central (74 per cent), south-south (71 per cent), and north-east (58 per cent); and fourth in the other zones - Lagos (72 per cent), south-west (72 per cent), northwest (59 per cent) and southeast (53 per cent).

According to the report, Glo came third in Lagos (88 per cent), south-west (79 per cent), north-west (78 per cent) and south-east (59 per cent) and fourth in north-central (78 per cent), south-south (78 per cent) and north-east (53 per cent).

From such a quality of service check, analysts had thought NCC would apply its own prescription in dealing with the subscribers' headache. Rather, the agency chose to come down hard on all the operators. The indefinite ban on all promotions and lotteries by network operators has continued to generate divergent opinions.

But a number of subscribers and consumer rights activists believe that NCC's technical unit will do well to sit down with its opposite number in the telecommunications companies and look closely at the issues of quality of service, the environmental and financial challenges that these telecommunications investors face in Nigeria.

In wielding its big stick, the NCC is in a way warning potential investors that it can undo their marketing plans and their business goals in the long term as sales drive and sustain revenue, from which these investors pay huge taxes and fees to all levels of governments.

For any discerning investor, increasing sales revenue is critical to sustained business operations. Exploiting sales promotion is not criminal. Rather than send wrong signals to potential investors, the NCC should ramp up its consumer education campaigns to keep the consumer properly informed.

President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the ban affects telecoms subscribers who had benefited from promotions as well as more subscribers that would have benefited more. He gave instances of the aeroplane and luxurious buses promos, which he said were clear instances of how operators were empowering telecoms subscribers.

He called on the NCC and the Federal Government to make adequate provision for more infrastructure rollout, since the NCC believed that consumer promotions were causing congestion on the various networks.

Telecoms operators, under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have different views to the issue of network congestion. It rather blamed the troubles on natural and man-made disasters and not consumer promotions and lotteries.

Chairman of ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said the natural disasters were caused by flooding in some southern parts of the country, while the man-made disasters were caused by spontaneous attacks on telecoms facilities in some northern parts of the country by gunmen in September this year.

He added that the unprecedented flood in some parts of the country destroyed Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) along its path, leading to significant service disruption in the affected areas, with consequential impact on service availability in some other parts that were not affected by the flood. "Other than disruption to services, our members have lost equipment worth several billions of Naira to the flood disaster across the country, as over additional 300 BTS sites were affected by the flood."

He called on the government to provide the necessary protection to telecoms facilities in the national interest of the country.

Adding his voice, Chief Executive Officer of Etisalat, Mr. Stephen Evans said it was unfair for the regulator to impose a blanket ban on promos noting that the promo that caused the degration of the network leading to worsening quality of service was not conducted by all operators.

According to him, "The NCC should look at the ban on promos again. Etisalat Nigeria did not participate in the 500 per cent airtime reward promo. We felt that it will not sync our quality of service aspirations. NCC should have looked at the operators that breached the agreement we had with the regulator shortly before they began the 500 per cent promo.

Evans said "We as Etisalat Nigeria didn't participate in that promo because we knew it would breach the agreement all the mobile operators had with NCC. We believe NCC should look at it again and allow promos that impact positively on consumer benefits and improve quality of service".

Meanwhile, Executive Vice Chairman, of NCC Dr. Eugene Juwah speaking last week at the Telecoms Executives and Regulator Forum organised by the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (Atcon) in Lagos said "the regulator will in the implementation of the QoS regulations, make exceptions for areas where incidents that are extraneous to operators are established to have occurred".

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