By ‘Sola Fagorusi
The most discussed issue of the moment for telecommunication service consumer is the deactivation of several mobile telephone lines by operators on the instruction of the regulatory Nigerian Communications Commission. This was long in coming given the various shift in dates for this decision. For a people that have become used to the convenience of communication through various feature and smart phones, shutting them out of the space is not an option to most. As part of its regulatory oversight function, the NCC had given the directive that all customers who are yet to fully complete their Subscribers Identification Modules registration requirements should have their lines banned. Prior to this moment was the instruction by NCC that all mobile line operators should cease activation of mobile numbers until their users details are captured. It was an approach by the NCC to reverse what should have been at the conception of the telecommunication boom in 2001 in Nigeria. Under this new guideline of registration of SIM-based phone subscribers nationwide, new subscribers are expected to register their details and biometric information, including fingerprints and facial photographs. It is after this that the phone lines fully become active after a 24-hour period or less. The directive, which is strengthened by the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 also affected existing phone users some of which now have their lines barred even after doing the needful. What this means is that such individuals will be denied access to phone calls, text messages and more importantly data services, especially for the tech savvy population.
While there is nothing wrong with the aspirations of the NCC, it is unfortunate that some consumers have had to bear the consequences of the unprofessional handling of this activity. Reportedly, about 10.7 million lines are currently barred by the NCC on the pretext of improper registration. There are instances of consumers who have repeatedly had to return to data capturing spots to have their details captured. Also unfair is NCC’s constant and arbitrary alteration of the priority data that should be captured. There have been instances of NCC requesting that a particular entry on the form is not compulsory only to return to request same. While the request for exact residential address is necessary with such data capture, NCC also needs to be sensitive to the reality on ground. The poor urban and rural planning over the years in Nigeria has led to impossibility of having some houses numbered. Pressed too hard, it is not unlikely that some consumers will offer false information just to get past it. This is a clear defeat of the output the NCC desires in collaboration with other agencies like the National Security Adviser’s Office and the Department of State Security that can benefit from its activity through having a good channel for intelligence gathering. This step by the NCC is crucial if Nigeria is to stamp out various shades of crime; where the fear lies is in sections of government interests using such organised data and other tools to spy on its citizens especially for economic and political gains.
Records available from the NCC show that the Nigerian telecom market as of April, 2015 had 196.9 million connected telephones lines with 145.4 million active. Telecommunication companies are also in part responsible for the poor responses by consumers. If the same energy used in advertising their various products had been deployed to the SIM registration exercise maybe consumers will go through the current re-registration stress. According to the NCC, as early as September 2014, the commission returned 18.6 million SIM cards data to MTN; 7.4 million to Airtel; 2.2 million to Globacom and 10.4 million to Etisalat for corrections. These cards had problems including incomplete biometric information and pre-registration in some instance.
Beyond this is the Quality of Service regulation by the NCC. It is a delight knowing that the NCC continues to slam penalties on networks that refuse to meet the minimum standard of quality of service and the key performance indicators. A review from the telecom companies perspective is however needful to have a balanced assessment. Before now, telecom companies have had to solely maintain their base station while paying various charges to state governments, land regulatory authorities and also including diesel cost and personnel cost in manning these stations. In the industry, any base station not aiding the generation about a million naira in profit monthly is usually shut down. The resultant effect is that consumers in that neighbourhood begin to experience poor service. With the outsourcing of base stations now by most telecommunication companies to companies like IHS Holdings and ATC Nigeria, one can hope that the idea of collocation of masts, wherein a number of telecom companies share a single base station, will continue to flourish. Hopefully the NCC can also encourage these base stations managers to invest in other power sources that can replace diesel in maintaining these bases. Ultimately, the consumers will be the winner with reduced charges and improved quality of service. With Nigerians spending as much 2.5 trillion naira annually on call, the NCC needs to continue working with the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria and pressure groups like the National Association of Telecommunication Subscribers while aligning with the International Telecommunication Union to ensure best practices in the industry ultimately in the consumer’s interest.
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