Subscribers groan as unsolicited SMS persists
• NATCOMS prescribes N10, 000 free airtime for each default
• Etisalat claims 2.49m customers activated code on network
There appears to be no respite for telecommunications consumers in Nigeria, as the menace of unsolicited Short Message Service (SMS) persist.Consumers are complaining of increase in the rate at which unsolicited SMS’ flood their mobile phones on a daily basis, describing it as ‘alarming.’
This is coming on the heels of a declaration by the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, that more than one million consumers had activated the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb (DND) code, within two months of its launch.
However, several consumers are still getting these messages, even after activating the DND code.Already, an Abuja Court of Appeal has ruled that granting unknown persons and organisations access to a subscriber’s telephone line by one of the operators, MTN in this case, for the purpose of sending unsolicited messages to the line is a violation of the subscriber’s right to privacy.
In view of this, the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMs) has called for sanctions on erring operators and compensation for subscribers.
A document that emanated from the Legal and Regulatory Department of the NCC, and directed to network operators last year, showed that erring telecom firms risked N5 million fine if they failed to comply with the directive and further N500,000 daily for as long as the contravention persists. This was as at June 2016.
Meanwhile, some subscribers, who spoke with The Guardian, recounted their experiences.Shola Amodu, a subscriber to MTN, Globacom and Etisalat, lamented that the menace became more worrisome for him, even after activating the 2442 DND code.
“It was as if I opened my house for flood to come in. The two networks common with this menace are MTN and Globacom.“SMS such as ‘Data Overload Deal! Yes! Enjoy data overload. Get 6GB data for just N2000, valid for 30 days. You can share data with your friends and family. Hurry! Dial *777# Now.”
“Your history service will be renewed in two days and you will be charged N20 per day.“Thanks for choosing news wire at N50 per month.“Yhello, your MTN Backup subscription will be renewed at N50. Your subscription will be renewed on July 21.”
The most annoying aspect of this issue, according to an Airtel subscriber, Nnamdi Ameh, is that subscribers are charged and their accounts are debited each time they received unsolicited SMS.
Reacting, the President, NATCOMS, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, described the situation as disturbing, noting that the NCC has done what it could do, which included the DND code 2442 activation. “But beyond that after many people activated this, it stopped after about two weeks, the messages returned in a more powerful manner.”
According to him, NCC needed to be firmer with its policies by ensuring those erring operators are sanctioned, especially as “they have declared 2017 as a ‘Year of the Consumer.’ NCC must go beyond the surface by taking serious measures on this issue. I think the NCC should allow the operators to compensate the affected subscribers, say a N10,000 free airtime as many times as they have violated the order,” Ogunbanjo urged.
Efforts to get the NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo’s reactions on the matter proved abortive, as he failed to pick calls put through to his line for about three days, and he equally did not reply text messages sent to his lines.
Meanwhile, responding on behalf of Etisalat Nigeria, Head, Environment, Compliance and Public Relations, Oluseyi Osunsedo, claimed that the telecommunications firm does not see much of a challenge with the activation of DND by its customers.
She said several campaigns have been made alongside the NCC informing consumers about the availability of the service and the steps to take to be either placed on full or partial DND.
“As is with most new services, we expect an initial teething challenge as customers become aware of the service, and try to become familiar with to opting out process. We however expect these challenges to be resolved shortly, and the complaints become nonexistent,” she stated.
Osundedo, who hinted to The Guardian that Etisalat had about 2.79 million subscribers that had already activated the service on its network, explained that the DND short code was specifically set-up to address this segment of subscribers. Every subscriber who sends STOP to 2442 is added to the Do-Not-Disturb database within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, an MTN source told The Guardian that the situation is of great concern to the telecommunications firm.According to the source, operators have control over their respective ecosystems, and therefore apply a number of safeguards so that third party content providers within their ecosystem adhered to industry policies and requirements around subscription, advertising, promos, and the opt-out process.
“However, in the light of complaints received, operators are working with these service providers to tighten and increase measures to address the issue.
“At MTN, we have provided the *447# short code through which subscribers can manage (activate/deactivate) VAS subscriptions, and based on customers’ reports we investigate and blacklist suspected spam numbers. In addition, we continue working to raise public awareness about solicited/unsolicited messages.”
The MTN source explained that not all unsolicited messages are spam, saying messages can be sent without prior consent by organisations, which have obtained customers phone details.
“Regrettably, consumers are often unaware that by providing their mobile numbers on any platform - be it on electronic or published media, online or even in person, - they may be unknowingly consenting to receive promotional or spam messages from unknown persons anywhere in the world,” the source stated.