The Consumer Affairs Bureau of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is mandated by the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 to protect, inform and educate telecom consumers. It is in line with this mandate that the Commission designed the Telecom Consumer Parliament as a forum for the active exchange of ideas on how to mitigate salient issues affecting the consumers of telecom services in the country.
At the beginning of the Parliament, it was a quarterly engagement that includes so many invited consumers, however, it has been redesigned to twice a year and limited to the Telecoms Regulator and Service Providers, the Consumer Advocacy Groups, and other relevant stakeholders. This redesigned TCP has deepened the engagements for the benefit of telecom consumers.
Recently, the Commission hosted the 91st edition of the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP), with the theme “Data Depletion: Discussions on Various Perspectives” on March 16, 2023 at the Communications and Digital Economy Complex Mbora, Abuja which was attended by chief executive officers and representatives of service providers and other stakeholders in the Nigerian telecom industry.
The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, in his welcome remarks, noted that the event was one of NCC’s high-level dialogue forums held twice a year to exchange ideas on salient issues affecting the consumers of telecom services in the country aimed at protecting, informing and educating the telecom consumers.
Recalling the 90th Edition held in Lagos on 23rd June 2022 with the theme “5G Technology: Opportunities and Challenges”, he informed the audience that as an outcome of that event, the Commission has increased its capacity to handle type approval of devices as a result of the introduction of 5G enabled devices, and also intensified its efforts to educate telecom consumers on the benefits of 5G, particularly as regards the higher speed of data.
“We are here today to deliberate on the issue of data depletion, which has become one of the most prevalent complaints received from the telecom consumers in the wake of their recent migration to 4G/LTE technology. Consumers have been experiencing depletion of their data either as a result of data usage or consumption, and are constantly informing the Commission of their experience through our various complaints channels,” he said,.
The EVC said the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for the global explosion of new technologies which opened up an array of services, dynamic business models and new opportunities and markets globally. The Nigerian telecom industry was not left out, going by the documented upsurge in the use of computers, smartphones, smartwatches, and other technology-dependent devices which have given consumers access to multi-functional comfort and utility.
He said technology has eased interaction for a majority of the populace using social and instant messaging applications. No doubt, the underlying technology for these services is the internet, which drives connectivity. It is within the context of the subscription and usage of the internet that consumers are experiencing what they refer to as abnormal depletion of their data, which gives rise to the reason we are here today.
“Mobile Network Operators all over the world have had to face challenges occasioned by emerging technologies. Particularly during the pandemic, employees and students alike were forced to operate from home during the lockdown, which stretched the existing infrastructure to its limits.
“This deliberation could therefore not have come at a more auspicious time, as Nigeria moves with the rest of the world towards 5G technology following the issuance of 3.5GHz spectrum licenses to MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, MAFAB Communications Limited and Airtel Networks Limited.”
Prof Danbatta further noted that whereas 4G offers better download speeds, higher bandwidth and voice quality than 3G technology, 5G technology provides the additional benefits of ultra-highspeed data, low latency and higher bandwidth over 4G technology. It is therefore important that we completely appreciate and understand the issues surrounding data depletion, its usage and consumption in the era of 4G technology before we fully commence 5G usage.
He averred that the interests of the telecom consumer is of paramount importance to NCCs and as the telecom regulator, the Commission has the responsibility of ensuring that the consumer’s voice is heard, and that the relevant authorities address their complaints.
“It is against this backdrop that the Commission invited the key industry players today to dialogue on the theme “Data Depletion: Discussions on Various Perspectives” to understand the various perspectives to this prevalent issue, identify the possible causes, and brainstorm on the way forward. During this programme, we will listen to representatives of the Regulator, the Industry and the Consumer Advocacy Groups as they present the issue of data depletion as seen from their respective perspectives.”
He said as much as the Commission has an obligation to the telecom consumer, it also has an obligation to the industry; a symbiotic relationship in which one party cannot survive without the other. The consumers are the basis for the operators’ business; if their interests are ignored, the operators’ investments would collapse, and there would be no industry for the Commission to regulate.
“It is thus expedient that we utilise opportunities presented by the Commission’s high-level outreach events such as this parliament to genuinely exchange ideas on how to reduce the challenges militating against effective service provision to the barest minimum, Danbatta added.
Earlier in his welcome address, Head, Consumer Affairs Bureau, Nigerian Communications Commission, Mr. Ayanbanji Ojo, stated that the Commission has increased its capacity to handle type approval of devices as a result of the introduction of 5G enabled devices and also intensified efforts to educate telecom consumers on the benefits of 5G, particularly as regards the higher speed of data.
He said as a department, the Consumer Affairs Bureau maintains a direct interface with telecom consumers through our various communication channels. Either as a result of data usage or consumption, consumers are steadily informing the Commission of their experience with the depletion of their data; a prevalent complaint in the wake of their recent migration to 4G/LTE technology.
“As a nation, we have struggled with the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown, which necessitated an upsurge in the use of data-enabled devices for communication whether for school, work, or social interaction. Our Mobile Network Operators have also had to upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate the extra pressure brought by streaming platforms necessary for consumers to work, for academic purposes, carry out business, and socialize.
He said, amid these changes, and as consumers are adapting to the migration from 3G to 4G and now 5G technology, they are registering complaints regarding the unusual depletion of their data, which gives rise to the theme of the discussion. “It is our responsibility to ensure that the consumer’s voice is heard and that their complaints are addressed by the relevant stakeholders,” Ojo added.
The Commission which also used the occasion of the Telecom Consumer Parliament to commemorate the 2023 World Consumer Rights Day to unveil the first Telecom Consumer Assistance, Resolution and Enquires (TELCARE) at the public concourse at the Terminal C of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja. The TELCARE, is the beginning of the helpdesk project expected to adorn some airports and other similar public locations across the country. It is one of NCC‘s strategies for expanding the channels of engagement with telecom consumers.
Ojo noted that many consumers transiting at the airport are already taking advantage of the Desk even before the launch of the TELCARE Desk, to make enquiries or lodge complaints. „This is a pilot project, and the Commission will ensure that the TELCARE Desk is established in more strategic locations around the nation. We believe that through adequate education, information sharing, and the provision of layers of channels for complaints and redress, we can safeguard the interest of telecom consumers and innovatively promote the prospect of more excellent consumer experience,“ Ojo said.