Consumer-centric initiatives and telecoms sector’s growth
Globally, the telecom sector is passing through some tough times. Changing dynamics of business environment have been reshaping the strategic framework within which telecom companies have been operating. Higher attrition rate, price war, government regulations, increased customer choices, low switching costs have once again brought the customers at the centre stage of business strategies of telecom companies at both local and global level.
These challenges are not just for the service providers; even the regulatory environment has not been sared. Lately, in Nigeria, stakeholders have wondered where the autonomy of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) lies, following some regulatory infractions on the part of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
It however, must be said that these infractions boil down on the need for customers to be accorded the respect they deserve in the sector.
A critical look at Section 104-106 of the Nigerian Communication Act mandates the NCC, to protect telecoms consumers. Although as a regulator, NCC has introduced several strategies in the last five years to protect telecoms subscribers, it is believed that the regulator needs to do more in the area of consumer-centric initiatives that will reposition the sector for improved performance.
The telecoms regulator is expected, according to Section 104 to protect consumers against issues including poor service quality, fast depletion of data, unsolicited text messages, high cost of mobile broadband, among others.
Consumer complaints rising
The Guardian checks showed that subscribers nationwide lodged 19,977 complaints against Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), between January and October this year.
The grievances, which were reported on four dedicated channels of the NCC, had to do with billing; call centre/customer care; quality of service/experience, sales promotions and advertisement, among others. Billing issues include an unexplained change in the account balance and the inability to change tariff plans.
Concerning customer care, subscribers decried their inability to connect to help lines; alleged nonchalant attitude of agents; incorrect response from agents and other infractions. Regarding quality of service in respect of voice and data, telephone users complained of call interference; inability to receive calls; call divert; call barring; persistent data depletion; poor signal/no network to mention a few.
However, efforts have been put in place by the NCC to checkmate some of these lapses. Checks showed that the NCC has deepened efforts on its Protect, Inform and Educate (PIE) mandate. Through its various outreach programmes such as the Consumer Town Hall Meeting (CTM), Consumer Outreach Programme (COP) and the Telecoms Consumer Parliament (TCP), the commission has educated thousands of the consumers across the nooks and crannies of the country, in a bid to empower the telecoms consumer.
In 2017, the telecoms regulator declared it as the Year of Telecoms Consumers, which actually ushered in the 622 code as a second-level consumer complaints resolution mechanism, the introduction of Do-Not-Disturb DND 2442 Short code, which has empowered telecoms consumers to personally control what they receive in form of unsolicited text massages.
Till date, over 22 million telecoms consumers have signed up to DND, according to the figure from the NCC. Also, recently, the commission unveiled a revised Consumer Complaints and Service Level Agreement (CC/SLA) to improve consumer complaint management and resolution in a more promptly manner by the service providers.
Protecting consumers from fraud
In fulfillment of one of its fundamental statutory responsibilities of protecting the interests of the consumers of telecoms services, the NCC, inaugurated a multi-sectoral committee to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on financial frauds also called electronic fraud (e-fraud), which are perpetrated through digital platforms. The committee, inaugurated in line with resolutions reached at a stakeholders’ forum on financial fraud organised by the NCC earlier this year, is set to harmonise the activities of critical stakeholders responsible for combating financial fraud committed through telecommunications platforms.
Inaugurating the committee in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said: “The inauguration of the committee is further demonstration of commission’s commitment to forge necessary strategic collaboration with other government agencies, industry players and other stakeholders towards addressing critical industry issues for the benefit of all.”
Danbatta, who was represented at the forum by the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management at NCC, Adeleke Adewolu, said with the attainment of 35.4 per cent broadband penetration, there has also been an increase in financial services. Expectedly, mobile platforms and applications have become the most common channels for conducting financial and other sundry transactions.
The EVC, however, noted that as the uptake of these alternative channels grew, so have incidences of malevolent use of technology and attendant heavy losses suffered by consumers and other key stakeholders.
“Cybercriminals, hackers and other unscrupulous elements are exploiting online platform vulnerabilities to gain illegal access to bank accounts through phishing and other ploys such as fraudulent SIM swaps to bypass authentication security levels, regardless of whether the transactions are conducted via mobile phones, desktop browser, or on point of purchase,” Danbatta said.
The 26-man committee draws membership from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the NCC, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), and the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), among others..
The Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau at NCC, Mrs. Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, said prior to the stakeholders forum, the incidence of financial fraud using telecom platforms had been pervasive, crossing all borders and boundaries and industry spectrum.
“The negative implications of such frauds were not only huge in financial losses, but high in reputational damage to the telecom operators, the financial institutions, the regulators (NCC and CBN) security agencies and the nation as a whole,” Onwuegbuchulam said.
According to her, the commission had also been inundated with complaints on the unceasing cases of financial fraud via the use of telecom platforms and, as a result, was poised at seeking initiatives aimed at creating greater awareness on the issues as well as creating ways of mitigating problems arising from its occurrence.
The Stakeholders forum was, indeed, one of the initiatives put in place by the Commission to harness ideas and solutions towards solving/ mitigating the menace.
At the end of the forum, some of the resolution points adopted, which formed the communique for the event, include: Telecommunication operators(Telcos) and banks to complete the process to collaborate and share adequate information on SIM Swap incidents.
Tackling the challenge
Speaking at the presentation of the final reviewed report of the complaints categories and service level agreement designed to address these complaints, Danbatta said the unveiling of the final report of the reviewed CC/SLA, was designed for prompt and effective complaint resolution in line with the evolving trends and realities of the industry. The robust review exercise, which commenced in 2017, was finalised in May 2019. The exercise was geared towards harnessing all relevant regulatory policies, regulations and guidelines for the protection, information, education and relative empowerment of telecom consumers in Nigeria.
“The protection information, education and indeed empowerment of consumers is one of the central elements of the 8-Point Agenda or vision strategy my leadership adopted to guide our regulatory activities when I assumed office as the EVC of the NCC in August 2015. Other elements of the vision strategy include: the promotion of competition and inclusive growth; ensuring regulatory excellence and operational efficiency; the optimisation of the usage and benefits of spectrum as well as the promotion of ICT innovation and investment opportunities. All of these elements serve one principal purpose, and that is to ensure that all elements of the service ecosystem work seamlessly to ensure that consumers get best-in-class service at the most affordable price points without being unduly taken advantage of,” Danbatta said, adding that as regulator, the Commission will not relent in enforcing compliance to the agreement.
“It is my sincere wish that the review and adoption of the report by stakeholders and the industry will enhance consumer protection, information, education, empowerment and satisfaction, which can only lead to a more dynamic industry in growth and impact,” Danbatta added.