DND, subscribers and telecoms sector growth
One of the major high points of the Nigerian Communication Act 2003, signed into law by President Olusegun Obasanjo on July 8, 2003, is the power it gives to the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to protect telecoms consumers.
Precisely, Section 104 to106 of the Act mandates the NCC to do this, especially in the introduction of consumer-centric initiatives that will boost customer experience given the myriad of complaints in the sector.
While the NCC works towards the protection of telecoms consumers in the country through several regulatory efforts, consumers still grapple with various occasional challenges in their use of mobile services, and consumer complaints increased. The major complaints being unacceptable service quality by the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the following areas: billing issues; Value Added Services issues; SMS issues, Call set-up, Data service, SIM issues, recharge card challenge, amongst others. Unsolicited text messaging is deemed one of the major complaints amongst the vast majority of consumers.
Virtually, there have been complaints from telecoms subscribers, who make use of the over 204 million active SIM cards in the country.
Due to serious complaints of unsolicited text messaging by the consumers, the NCC, under the leadership of the Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, after various efforts at mitigating the problem, issued a directive to the MNOs with effect from July 1, 2016, to activate the ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ (DND) facility, which gives subscribers the freedom to choose to receive or not to receive promotional messages from the various networks and other telemarketers through their phones.
With this directive, the operators were mandated to dedicate a common Short Code (2442), which will provide subscribers control to reject all promotional SMS and calls (full DND), or from only select categories of telemarketers (partial DND).
Further, the NCC declared 2017 the Year of Telecoms Consumers. In that year, one of the consumer-centric initiatives, aside from the introduction of 622 code as a second-level consumer complaints resolution mechanism, was the recognition handed DND 2442 shortcode.
Today, statistics from the NCC show over 22 million telecoms consumers have signed up to DND.
Effects of DND on sector
DND service as mandated by the NCC enables mobile subscribers to opt-out of marketing/promotional messages of which bulk SMS is classified as one. Hence, mobile numbers that have been added to the DND list by their owners are unable to receive bulk SMS.
This can either bar bulk messages from all industries (Full DND), or only from select categories of telemarketers (partial DND).
The Commission has gone empirical to measure the effect of the service as it conducted a study titled: A Study on the Impact of DND Service 2442 Short Code in Effective Telecoms Consumer Complaints Management.
The 38-page report of the research showed that complaints related to DND service ‘2442’ shortcode ineffective telecoms consumer management have drastically reduced since the inception of DND service ‘2442’.
The report disclosed that there was a 96.6 per cent decline in the number of complaints about unsolicited text messages from 2017 to 2019.
The report also revealed that the percentage of resolved DND complaints within 72 hours went from 84 per cent, 75 per cent and 100 per cent resolution in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The research also revealed that since the inception of DND, there has been an increase in the total number of subscribers to the service.
“There are currently 448,985 and 22,038,864 representing 305 per cent and 250 per cent for partial and full DND respectively,” the report read.
Language, awareness, flexibility limit activation
THE challenges of language, awareness and flexibility were found as major limiting factors for DND activation.
NCC, in the study, explained that lack of flexibility in the opt-in and opt-out options of the DND, which prevents MNOs from alerting their subscribers of new products and services in case they might wish to amend their status is a major challenge.
Secondly, it informed that inadequate awareness of the DND service by consumers in rural areas is another challenge. Thirdly, the DND service does not cater to Nigerians, who do not speak English, or for those with accessibility challenges due to disability.
Largely, the report claimed that in general, the introduction of DND service ‘2442’ has positively impacted the curbing of the menace of unsolicited text messages and has therefore resulted in a drastic reduction in Telecoms Consumers Complaints.
The research also highlighted the key challenges that pose a threat to the effectiveness of the DND implementation in Nigeria to include the lack of flexibility in the opt-in and opt-out options of the DND which prevents MNOs from alerting their subscribers of new products and services in case they might wish to amend their status.
DND usage in other countries
The report observed that in the past few years, the use of DND service increased in many countries and their telecoms regulatory body has instructed the MNOs to apply it. Some of these countries include India, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. Consequently, it became a hindrance to businesses, which use promotional SMS as the main method to reach their clients.
In India, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has created an NDNC Filter that is the National Do Not Call Registry, which is fully run by the Indian Government. The main purpose of the creation of NDNC is to prevent unwanted marketing SMS and calls from telemarketers. If a subscriber does not want to receive any promotional SMS or calls from any company, he or she can add his number to the NDNC registry. To add a number in NDNC list a subscriber needs to send an SMS to 1909. Instantly an SMS is received for registration in NDNC list. It may take up to 2-3 days to activate it and all operators have a common code.
In the UAE, subscribers are given the provision to choose to opt-out from receiving any marketing SMS. Precise, which is an App, provide the unsubscribe platform to all its customers with the help of a short code (7726) or via postal service. Apart from this, customers can also opt-out directly with either of their two relevant telecoms operators- Etisalat or DU. Subscribers can block or receive unsolicited SMS by sending a message to 7726.
Impact on VAS operations in Nigeria
The activation of DND by Nigerians, indeed, impacted the operations of Value Added Service (VAS) providers in the country.
For instance, the VAS sub-sector, whose worth was N300 billion as of 2018, dropped to N79 billion by October 2019, according to the NCC.
In 2020, while speaking with The Guardian, National Coordinator at Wireless Application Service Provider’ Association of Nigeria (WASPAN), Chijioke Ezeh, said there was serious confusion in the VAS industry. Ezeh said this led to the decline the sector is experiencing.
Putting it in his words, “there are no clear cut lines as to what to do and not to do, who is in charge of what, among others. This means that there are a lot of grey areas, which leave room for conflicting interpretations. In such a scenario, it is very difficult to achieve any sustainable success.”
He stressed that the VAS industry is in a state of decline, adding: “the perceived lull is both good and bad news. The industry has less bad news to report, the telcos lose billions in revenue, Nigerians lose access to digital information and entertainment, VAS providers shut down and Nigerian graduates lose jobs while the regulator mulls what next to do. So yeah, there’s been a lull.”
While the DND remains a challenge, Ezeh pointed out that the whole idea of bringing an aggregator into the mix made a simple problem complex.
“At this stage, with initially sighted value already shaven off and with only hard work left to be done to re-grow from nothing, the inviting aggregator position is looking bare and maybe a stakeholder position some may want to just hand over (like brokers) to the telcos for whatever little share they can get. Problem is, though…100 per cent of zero is yet zero.”