Poor Telecoms Services: Subscribers’ Clamour For Compensation
IF they had an option, many would have by now dumped completely the services of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), going by recent happenings in Nigeria’s telecommunications sector.
This is because of increasing poor services as witnessed in the number of dropped calls; aborted short message service (SMS), to countless number of futile attempts to make calls. When mobile phones are placed side by side, the possibilities are high to hear that ‘the number you have dialed is not reachable.’
Indeed, from Lagos, to Abuja, Ondo to Port Harcourt, Jos to Enugu, Borno to Sokoto, quality of service, especially from the GSM operators, leaves much to be desired.
While the challenges of poor quality of service remain perennial, defiling virtually all solutions, in the last one month, some percentages of the over 150 million active telephone subscribers have been subjected to another round of torture from both the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the MNOs. Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) cards were deactivated from the networks.
There had been claims that about 40 million subscribers failed to meet the specified SIM registration requirements. Some of the telephone lines where pre-registered, which has become a huge offence in Nigeria. Others are that some subscribers’ biometric details (fingers and facial) have been found to be either missing or defective.
Genesis of deactivation
NCC claimed to have discovered some anomalies during the hamonisation and verification exercises of the SIM data sent to them by the operators last year and had by September 2014 returned some huge numbers of affected SIM cards.
Specifically, at a media briefing in Lagos, NCC’s Head of Compliance and Monitoring Unit, Efosa Idehen, said that in September 2014 alone, NCC discovered that from the SIM data the operators sent to the commission for hamonisation, some were found to be defective and had to be returned to the operators for proper and complete checks.
According to him, about 18.6 million SIM data were sent back to MTN Nigeria; 7. 49 million sent to Airtel; 2.23 million to Globacom and 10.46 million to Etisalat, which made a total of 38.8 million
Idehen however, said the monitoring exercise done recently by the NCC showed that operators are partially committed to the exercise.
According to him, out of the about 18.6 million SIM registration data found to be defective on MTN network, only about 1.6 million have been barred. He explained that what MTN actually did was to put the affected subscribers on “Receive Calls Only”, which means the subscribers cannot put a call through to another network.
“With this there was no compliance from MTN. During our visit to Airtel, the telecommunications service has fully barred 2.3 million from their networks. These were SIM data found to be incomplete. At Globacom, 3.5 million lines have been barred also from their network. Etisalat had barred 3.3 million,” he stated.
Two weeks ago, about 10.7 million subscribers, who were barred from their networks laid siege to various service outlets of the operators to get re-connected. Some of the subscribers, who spoke to The Guardian, claimed to have been going to these centres for days, yet they could not re-register, especially MTN subscribers, owing to large number of users. The service provider has no adequate facilities to reconnect the affected lines. This further puts customers to some harrowing experiences without adequate compensations.
Impact of latest sanction
LAST week’s N120.4 million sanctions slammed by the NCC on the networks operators further compounded subscribers agony, as those who were hitherto partially deactivated have been completely removed from the networks.
Furthermore, the sanction has forced the MNOs to bar, now completely, the remaining SIM cards found to be defective on their networks. As such, more customers have continued to throng the service centres to see the possibilities of getting reconnected because of the essential nature of the telephone lines.
“I am telling you if not that telephone has become extremely essential, I would have dump all of them. None of the operators has human sympathy. I have been at this centre for the past five hours and nothing concrete seems to be on”, said Jolaosho, an MTN subscriber, who called for stiffer penalties and sanctions on the operators for making subscribers go through harrowing experiences in re-registration.
SANCTIONS are not new to Nigeria’s telecoms sector. In fact, NCC, under former Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Eugene Juwah, imposed several sanctions on telecoms operators. It has become obvious that more will still come. The NCC had on May 11, 2012, sanctioned MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat, a cumulative fine of N1.17 billion, for poor quality service on their networks for the months of March and April, 2012.
The regulator ordered the operators to pay the fine on or before Friday May 25, 2012, or risk sanction of additional payment of N2.5 million per day for as long as the contravention persists.
The affected operators had refused to pay the initial amount of N1.17 billion, let alone the daily penalty of N2.5 million that later accumulated to N32.5 million per telecoms operator, amounting to N130 million for the four telecoms operators on the 13th day after the expiration of the May 25, 2012.
Again in April 2014, NCC sanctioned three out of the four major network operators—MTN Nigeria, Globacom and Airtel, the sum of N647.5 million for breach of key performance indicators (KPIs) and poor quality service for the month of January 2014. It however gave Etisalat a clean bill as it met all the set KPIs as at then.
The telecoms regulator, in letters dated February 19, 2014, addressed to each of the affected companies, said after collating statistics from the network operating centres of the operators in the month of January 2014, it discovered that the services provided by MTN, Airtel and Globacom fell below the KPI published by NCC in 2013.
A breakdown of the sanctions indicated that Globacom was fined N277.5 million for three breaches, while MTN and Airtel were asked to pay N185 million each for two breaches.
Increased calls for compensation for subscribers
WHILE NCC insisted it is generating money for the Federal Government, there have been calls that the money from fines on telecoms operators, especially the ones that border on poor service quality, should be shared among telecoms subscribers, which they argued, suffer the brunt of the inactions of the operators.
Responding to email enquiries from his London based home, a Nigerian telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, supported claims that subscribers should be compensated.
Aluko said while the MNOs are not sometimes totally to be blamed for poor services because of some of the challenges inherent in Nigeria, especially the erratic power supply and vandalism, “I concur 100 per cent that operators should compensate subscribers, at least by giving them some free airtime. This will settle some dusts in that regards.”
Speaking to The Guardian, the President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers Association of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, who had in 2013 asked operators to compensate subscribers with N5, 000 each for poor services, noted that the subscribers’ body was yet to give up on the request to compensate subscribers.
Ogunbanjo, who tongue-lashed both NCC and MNOs for the hardship experienced by subscribers over SIM registration and poor service, said the compensation matter was still very much in court “and I can tell you, this is a course that we are not giving up. The operators should have a way to compensate the subscribers, because without them (users), there wouldn’t have been any market for them to explore.”
The Director, Public Affairs, NCC, Tony Ojobo, said subscribers should not expect compensation from the commission. He said the money realised from the various sanctions on service providers went to government coffers.
Ojobo explained that unlike previous sanctions, which were specifically for one default or the other, “this recent one is a fine for non-compliance to order. It is a fine for a breach of directive given to the operators.”
According to him, subscribers can ask MNOs to compensate them. “If they fail, they can port to another network. This was part of the reasons why Mobile Number Portability was introduced. If as a subscriber, you are not deriving pleasure any longer from you operator, the option is there for you to port. Move to a better network that will address your case specifically.”