It may be too early to celebrate the good things that may be coming the way of the Nigerian telecom subscribers but with two prevailing decisions of the telecom regulator in Nigeria, the subscribers have a lot to smile about. When on February 5, 2012, my operator showed me that my text message to a friend on another network was N3.91, less than the N4.00 which the Nigerian Communications Commission has directed all the service providers to charge for such messages, I felt elated.
The telecom regulator had earlier directed the operators to come down from their exorbitant costs for SMS. According to the NCC, the cost at which operators exchange these texts with one another was determined to be N1.02 since 2009. It stressed that "there was a general recognition that the cost of SMS is too high, especially in view of the interconnection rate of N1.02 for SMS as determined by the Commission in 2009".
The operators ought to have reduced the cost of sms to this amount, or even less, but they all stuck to the tariff that earns them huge profits. The least some charged before now was N9 per text, while some charged up to N15 which is more than per minute cost of voice call. Even in situations where the messages are within the same network, that is, where the operator will not pay any interconnect charges to another operator; they still maintained the same high level of pricing beyond the advice of the telecom regulator.
If one imagines the number of messages sent by subscribers during festivities and seasons that have become very many in Nigeria, then, it will tell the story of the kill that operators make at the detriment of the subscribers. Those who are knowledgeable in the business, say that the implication of the Commission's ruling in 2009 that the exchange tariff for text messages at N1.02 per message, is that this is the actual cost of delivering this message by any operator. In other words, any addition on top of this amount per text is profit to the operator. In other words, if the operator has been charging N4 per text message, or even less since 2009, it would not have led to any losses. The reverse has been the case until the NCC whipped them into line. But, must our service providers always wait to be whipped into line to do the right thing? This may be the reason why the NCC, the voice of telecom subscribers, had responded by giving a price cap to the operators.
For some of us who enjoy sending more text messages than making calls, the telecom regulator has empowered us to keep texting! Combined with the recent directive of the same telecom regulatory body banning the operators from all forms of lotteries and promos using the network, it would appear that the consumers' views are being taken very seriously.
Recently, a news report indicated that the Commission may take drastic actions against some operators who may have flouted this rule. Although most of us are yet to notice any of such service providers still engaged in this nefarious activity, we are still of the view that all the operators must be kept under watch. In our earlier submission on this issue, we had actually advocated that the ban be made permanent in the Nigerian telecommunications industry which is plagued by quality of service issues. The reason is that some of the telecom operators have become lottery companies and have lost focus of their primary responsibilities to the subscribers as a result of the profit that they are making.
The twin action of the regulator in reducing the price of SMS to N4 per text, and sustaining the ban placed on lotteries and promotions by the network operators, has given the subscribers a major relief at these times when service quality is still of major concern. Perhaps, the best relief to the subscribers yet, would be more stiff sanctions by the telecom regulator on the service providers for poor quality of service being rendered to the subscribers. For now, the subscriber is winning in many ways, and the telecom regulator must be encouraged to keep its foot on the gas pedal.
-Mr. Onoja is Abuja-based communications analyst