7 December 2017

Nigeria: ICAF Forum Devise Strategies to Address Unsolicited SMS, Call Masking

Participants at the fourth quarter open meeting of the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), which held recently in Lagos, have devised new strategies to address the challenges of unsolicited text messages and call masking, which they said were becoming embarrassing to the telecoms consumers.

Among other consumer-related issues raised, unsolicited text messages and call masking were extensively discussed and new measures were taken to put an end to the menace.

In technical parlance, unsolicited short message service (SMS), are text messages sent through mobile devices to telecoms consumers by Value Added Service (VAS) providers for the purpose of advertising their products and services directly to the consumer who may not need such advertisement. Such messages come without the consent of the consumer and most times they constitute nuisance to the consumer.

Call masking, on the other hand, is a technique that allows telecoms operators and subscribers to send text messages or make calls from one location to another, without revealing the identity of the person that initiated the call. This method has been used to evade payment of telecoms tariff.

The ICAF forum, which was established by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) since 2006, seeks to provide advisory services on matters that affect the welfare of telecoms consumers in Nigeria.

Part of the resolution reached at the ICAF forum were the need for NCC to strengthen collaboration with law enforcement agents to address the situation, while it continues to monitor and implement the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) code, which they said, had been effective in curbing the influx of unsolicited text messages, since NCC introduced it in 2016. They were also of the view that the current complaint channels available to consumers are inadequate and called for increased channels.

The Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau at NCC, Mr. Abdullahi Maikano, in his opening remarks at the fourth quarter ICAF forum, reiterated the commitment of NCC to protect the rights of telecoms consumers and commended the speakers, Mr. Ayo Oke, a telecoms lawyer, who presented a paper on 'Telecoms Consumer Dispute Resolution and Redress Mechanism' and Mrs. Leke Ogundipe, who is the director, surveillance and enforcement with the Consumer Protection Council(CPC), who presented a paper on 'Addressing Telecoms Consumer Complaints.'

Maikano commended the speakers for highlighting the rights of telecoms consumers and how such rights could be protected by the CPC and by the consumers themselves.

In her paper Ogundipe explained that CPC has the overall mandate to protect and promote the interests of consumers of all services and products. She said while the mandate covers various methods of protecting consumers, there is a special emphasis on redress of consumer complaints. She however stressed the need for the consumers to know their rights.

"An informed consumer will know his/her rights, demand them and probably receive redress without recourse to regulatory agencies. Continuous sensitisation of consumers is thus a necessity in the complaint redress process," Ogundipe said.

The Chairperson, ICAF, Prof. Felicia Monye, who raised the concern about the increased volume of consumer complaints, which she puts at 18,000 per quarter, said the new measures taken by ICAF would help to facilitate speedy redress and reduce the number of consumer complaints.

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