There have been continuous complaints by millions of subscribers to the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) service providers in Nigeria over poor quality services and illegalities being perpetrated by the telecom firms in the country. These complaints include: illegal deductions from the call credit of subscribers, unsolicited adverts, calls and text messages (SMS), dropped/failed calls, network congestion, failed attempts to load recharge cards, inability to change tariff plans, inability to activate the services on offer, late delivery/inability to send or receive SMS and misdirected calls among others.
In some instances, customers receive annoying automated voice calls from network operators inviting them to subscribe to some service or competition. Sometimes, it is several unsolicited messages in the course of a day proposing one thing or another. Quite annoying is the fact that when one deletes or ignores such messages, the next thing one sees is another message telling him that a particular amount has been deducted from his account for subscribing to a service he did not subscribe to!
It appears the operators always have excuses for all poor services. Most times they cite lack of infrastructure and power, and the activities of militants in the Niger Delta region as reasons for the poor services. They have also complained of spending huge amounts of money on the provision of infrastructure, with one of the GSM operators reportedly saying it spent an average of N30 billion per annum to buy diesel for the generators in its base stations.
There are instances where some state governments charge these operators exorbitantly on taxes and the right of way (when they want to lay cables).
But should all these be passed on the subscribers, even surreptitiously? Also, these operators seem to lack effective communication and have refused to acknowledge that. The operators are guilty of over-promising the customer and under-delivering on the promises. Even in the face of worsening services, operators kicked against a decision asking them to show concern over the poor quality of services.
Industry regulators, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), have organised so many colloquia and townhall meetings on poor customer service. The operators have been commanded to desist from so many bad practices. Yet the complaints have been on the increase.
The NCC recently disclosed that it had uncovered a large volume of forceful subscriptions and illegal deductions by network providers and was set to order refunds to consumers. NCC director, Public Affairs, Nnamdi Nwokike, said that the commission discovered the irregularity after it carried out a long and comprehensive audit into Value Added Services (VAS) subscriptions across all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and VAS platforms.
He noted that the audit team analysed subscribers’ Call Detail Records from MNOs and subscription logs from VAS providers over a period of two years, leading to the conclusion that a huge percentage of VAS services were not voluntarily subscribed for. The audit team was also said to found out that some providers had implemented disingenuous mechanisms by which a large number of innocent consumers were “forcefully” subscribed to VAS platforms, leading to regular deductions of their airtime without their consent.
The GSM operators in Nigeria are believed to have over 161 million subscribers. It is, indeed, a vast market that should not be disregarded. As a newspaper, we call for increased access to ubiquitous broadband across the country and an increase in the number of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), otherwise known as base stations. It is noteworthy that Britain, with a population of 66 million people has more than 65,000 base stations, whereas Nigeria, with 195 million people, is still struggling to maintain about 20,000 base stations across the country.
We also call for growth in local content development in the telecom sector which would boost telecom growth among small indigenous players. Nigeria should be able to address its collective challenges in order to enable telecom subscribers enjoy the achievements of the sector since the rollout of GSM services in the country in 2001. And for them to enjoy the services, both the telecom regulatory agency and the consumer protection body must be on top of their game. They should rise up to their responsibility to the citizens as customers.