Emma Okonji writes on the benefits of the introduction of the Do-not-Disturb code in the telecoms sector.
A recent study carried out by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) revealed a downward trend in the number of complaints from telecoms subscribers, especially in the area of unsolicited messages.
These messages had, over time, became irritating to telecoms subscribers who received them, and more so irritating when the messages come in bulk to fill up the phone storage capacity and drain phone batteries faster than normal.
At the inception of Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) operations in Nigeria in 2001, subscribers were treated as kings. At that time, subscribers received Short Message Service (SMS), otherwise known as text messages from telecoms operators, only when the operators wanted to pass vital information such as information on network failures in some parts of the country and when they would be fixed. Subscribers were also sent SMS on new coverage areas, especially when operators expanded services to new areas. Information on systems maintenance/upgrade and the period of maintenance, which were usually sent to subscribers at midnights, were also communicated via SMS. These SMS were received without complaints because they were informative.
But over the years, as the use of telecommunications services for delivery of business services increased, telecoms operators on behalf of their business clients, began to send out broadcast bulk SMS to millions of subscribers on their networks. Most of the current messages were no longer informative. Instead, consumers received unsolicited promotional SMS broadcast across networks with subscribers sometimes receiving up to 12 or 20 SMS in a day, which not only overloaded their phone storage capacity, but also constituted a constant drain/nuisance.
In March 2016, the Federal Public Complaints Commissioner in charge of Lagos State Mr. Funso Olukoga, called for support on the part of Nigerians for the Bill in the Federal House of Representatives to discourage unsolicited text messages by sanctioning any GSM service provider sending unsolicited SMS to subscribers.
According to NCC's study, in the first quarter of 2016 alone, the commission received a total of 2,325 complaints on unwanted and disturbing telemarketing, and a total of 4,304 complaints on unsolicited marketing in nine months.
At a time, telecoms consumers' complaints escalated as telecoms operators continued to push unsolicited messages to subscribers in the name telemarking.
Aside unsolicited messages, consumer also complained of unacceptable service quality from the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in areas such as billing issues; value added services issues; SMS issues, call set-up, data services issues, SIM issues, recharge card issues among others. However, unsolicited text messages were deemed one of the major issues and main area of complaint among the vast majority of consumers.
To cushion the effect of the complaints, NCC provided various options with which consumers could complain directly to the commission about any service problem. The options include the commission's consumer portal email address, the Twitter handle, the Facebook page, the dedicated toll free number, by sending in letters and SMS to the commission.
NCC also created a platform for intervening in dispute resolutions between the operators and the consumers.
The NCC, after various efforts at mitigating the challenge had issued a directive to the Mobile Network Operators with effect from July 1, 2016, to activate the "DND" facility which gives subscribers the freedom to choose to receive or not to receive promotional messages from the various networks and other telemarketers through their phones.
With the directive from NCC, the operators were mandated to dedicate a common short code (2442) which will provide subscribers control to reject all promotional SMS and calls (Full DND), or from only select categories of telemarketers (partial DND).
The DND service as mandated by the NCC, enables mobile subscribers to opt out of marketing/promotional messages of which bulk SMS is classified as one. Hence, mobile numbers that have been added on the DND list by their owners are unable to receive bulk SMS. This can be either a bar of bulk messages from all industries, also known as full DND, or only from select categories of telemarketers, also known as partial DND.
As a resolution to the constant menace of unsolicited messages, the Commission introduced two major initiatives as part of measures to empower consumers' choice in service delivery and acceptance. These are the DND) 2442 short code, and the 622 toll-free line.
While the DND 2442 short code is used by consumers to determine ahead what messages or calls they can receive on their phones, the 622 toll-free line managed by the NCC was initiated to ensure improvement in service delivery by providing consumers with a toll free number where they can air their grievances or make complaints.
According to NCC's study, so far, 21 million subscribers had signed up for the DND initiative and the commission has continued to create more awareness on it through various outreach programmes and other stakeholder engagement fora.
Consumers can call the 622 number to escalate their unresolved complaints to their service providers for effective resolution through the commission's intervention.
Effect of DND application
According to NCC's study on the effect of DND application, after the introduction of DND service '2442' short code, there was a drastic decline of number of complaints received in respect to unsolicited text
In the year 2017, a total number of 2,157 complaints were lodged. By the following year 2018, only 971 complaints were lodged, which was a 55 per cent decrease from the total complaints of 2017, and represented only 45 per cent of the total complaints lodged in 2017.
Year 2019 indicated a major decline in the number of complaints from 2,157 in year 2017 to only 74 in 2019. This figure represents just 3.4 per cent of the total of 2017, and shows there was a reduction by 96.6 per cent from 2017.
Analysing the data from the DND study, NCC said the number of complaints related to unsolicited text messages had drastically reduced, saying the DND service '2442' has really made an impact in resolving consumers complaints on unsolicited text messages.
NCC's research result on DND application, further showed that in the year 2017, of the total complaints of 2157, about 1,816 complaints were resolved, indicating 84 per cent resolution rate.
The result of the study showed that complaints were resolved by the MNOs within 72 hours of receipt of complaint. For instance, in year 2018, of the total complaints of 971, about 727 complaints were resolved within 72 hours, indicating 75 per cent resolution rate. In 2019, of the total complaints of 74, all 74 complaints were resolved, indicating a 100 per cent resolution rate. In additi on, complaints resolution reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours in the resolution of all complaints.
"We can therefore conclude that DND complaints are being resolved effectively and timely as our research has shown 84 per cent, 75 per cent and 100 per cent resolution rates, within a maximum of 72 hours in years 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively," NCC said.
DND service subscriptions
DND service '2442' has a partial activation and a full activation. The partial activation allows subscribers to choose the kind of message they wish to receive while the full activation blocks all unsolicited messages.
Since the inception of '2442' it has been observed that there was an increase from year to year of the total number of subscribers to the service. In year 2017 there were 132,100 and 8,230,670 subscribers for partial and full activations respectively. In year 2018, there were 403,685 and 21,300,376 subscribers for partial and full activations respectively. There was a significant increase in total number of activations in year 2018, with an increase of 305 per cent and 250 per cent respectively from the previous year 2017, according to NCC's research study.
The result of the study further showed that in year 2019 there were 448,985 and 22,038,864 subscribers of partial and full activations respectively. It was also an additional increase from year 2018.
According to the data from NCC's study questionnaire, the major Challenges facing the DND service short code is that the rate and level of telecoms consumer awareness within the last three years is relatively low especially in the rural areas. Most people are not even aware of the short code in rural communities. The rural areas have a really high population and 99 per cent of them are ignorant towards the DND services.
Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said as consumer tastes and lifestyles change, the commission should once a year, permit the MNOs to remind consumers on the available sectors for which they have promotional data, in case consumers might wish to adjust their DND status. There should be additional effort in raising awareness of DND to telecoms subscribers in rural areas, using the most appropriate method, the stakeholders advised NCC.
DND Service across countries
In the past few years, the use of DND service increased in many countries and their telecoms regulatory body have instructed the MNOs to apply it. Some of these countries include: India, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria.
In India, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has created a NDNC Filter i.e. National Do Not Call Registry which is fully run by the Indian Government. The main purpose for creation of NDNC is to prevent unwanted marketing SMS and calls from telemarketers.
In the UAE, subscribers are given provision to choose to opt out from receiving any marketing SMS. Precise, which is an App, provides the unsubscribe platform to all its customers with a help of a short code (7726) or via a portal service. Apart from this customers can also opt out directly with either of their two relevant telecoms operators; Etisalat or DU. Subscribers can block or receive unsolicited SMS by sending a message to 7726.
In Saudi Arabia DND list is regulated by the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC).
Subscribers have the option of adding their number into specific operator's DND list by using the mobile application, calling the support center or by sending an SMS to a short code.