The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has described consumer violations in the nation’s telecom sector as intolerable, requesting the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to come up with a special compensation scheme to take care of poor quality of service being experienced by the Nigerian telecom consumers.
The Council’s Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki made the assertions recently when she paid a courtesy call on the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, at the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja.
Mrs. Atoki, while narrating the ordeals of consumers in the sector, identified poor quality of service, particularly high rate of drop calls; unsolicited text messages, even at odd hours; and unauthorized conscription of consumers into some telecom services or packages, especially caller tunes, without easy opting out options, as concerns demanding immediate regulatory attention.
Other concerns, she said, included disruption of internet service without prior notice to consumers; lack of compensation for down times; unfavourable data roll-over terms; non-provision of detailed billing information on used data; unfavourable customer care centres; ineffective customer care lines; and non-transparent sales promotion terms and conditions.
Atoki insisted that it was wrong for the telecom operators to hide under the often stated challenges of the operating environment to short-change Nigerian consumers. According to her, “we are not unmindful of the challenges that operators put out as being responsible for poor service, some of which are vandalisation of equipment, double taxation or even cost of laying cables.
“But for us, our concern is that, if we pay for these services, as long as you are in business and declaring profit, it is not in the interest of consumers to be faced with poor quality of service. If the challenges in the operating system environment still enable the operators to be in business and to make profit, then they are not fundamental enough to justify poor quality”, she argued.
She asserted further: “There should be a compensation policy put in place, where in if you have been short-changed for 10 seconds, you get your money back. And if that can be cumulative, in a month, or in a quarter, that amount of money that has consistently being short-changed can be calculated and reemitted to the consumer whether at the equivalent in cash or in airtime.”
The CPC boss, while stressing the need to step up collaboration between the two Agencies to address some of the consumers’ concerns, noted that despite NCC directives on unsolicited SMS, operators still indulged in the practice of sending these messages at odd hours, thereby infringing on the rights of individuals for a decent rest.
She disclosed that the purpose of the Council’s visit was to intimate the NCC’s boss of her organisation’s imminent full-scale investigation into the telecom sector, noting that a strengthened relationship would enhance the protection of telecom subscribers in the country.
Responding, the NCC Vice Chairman, Prof. Umaru Danbata, said the poor telecom service being experienced by subscribers were due to two major factors, which he described as technical and non-technical.
According to him, while the commission has the expertise to address the technical issues, the non-technical issues which are down to paucity of supporting infrastructure, can only be addressed by the three tiers of government.
On the CPC plans to beam its searchlight on the telecom sector, he cautioned the Council to exercise some restraint in embarking on such an assignment, stressing that only the NCC could determine parameters for drop calls.
He said, “You have touched on very important subject that the commission is striving very hard to ensure improvement on and that is the quality of service. In wanting to conduct your investigation, you will seriously be handicapped because of the way we measure quality of service here.
“This is one of the regulatory things we do and we have established expertise doing this over the years to the extent that regulators over the continent of Africa come here in order to bring to bear the best practice that we have here in regulating their own sector.
“You spoke about drop calls; I think the parameters that characterize quality of service are divided into two. One is made of technical parameters which only NCC have the capacity to measure, appraise and give directive to operators to improve in the event these parameters fall below stipulated level. It is hard see any role CPC can play in the determination of these parameters.”
He, however agreed on the need for collaboration between the two agencies, saying it was through that the interest of consumers, which both the agencies were protecting, could be effectively actualized.
He thereafter suggested for the formation of a joint committee which would look into some of the issues of common interest, particularly the review of the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two organisations, which the CPC boss agreed to.