NCC Commissioner, Okechukwu Itanyi
The recent ban on telecoms promos and lotteries by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has continued to generate reactions from stakeholders and operators, finding faults in the action of NCC, writes Emma Okonji
NCC, the telecoms industry regulatory body, last week, rose from a meeting, where it took a decision to ban promos and lotteries operated by telecoms operators across networks. The regulatory authority insisted the telecoms operators must stop promos and lotteries indefinitely because they were attracting unusual traffic to networks, thereby causing network congestion.
The ban, which was announced last week, has continued to elicit varied reactions. Some have hailed the decision of NCC, while many have faulted it, explaining that there could be better ways of handling the challenges of network congestion across networks.
Telecoms operators, under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), however have different views to the issue, as they insisted that natural and man-made disaster, were actually the cause of recent network congestion, rather than promos and lotteries as believed by the NCC and some telecoms subscribers.
Announcing the ban, Director, Public Affairs for NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said the decision became necessary, following increased congestion across networks that was traced to incessant promos and lotteries.
The ban, according to Ojobo, would cover all proposed and approved promotions and lotteries on which the commission had given approval further to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) entered into with the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC).
Ojobo said the ban shall continue to remain in force until such a time as may be determined by the commission.
Giving reasons for the ban, he explained that promotions had increased the number of minutes available to subscribers for use within a limited, period of time thereby creating congestion in the networks as subscribers try to use up the available minutes within the stipulated time.
He also added that on-net calls were now being offered by operators at tariffs well below the prevailing inter-connect rates, thereby introducing anti-competitive practices and behaviour.
Another reason he gave was that termination of calls were becoming increasingly difficult from one network to another and overall consumer experience on the networks had become very poor thereby making it extremely difficult for subscribers to make calls successfully.
He noted that the commission had, in recent times been inundated with several complaints from consumers and industry stakeholders against the various promotions offered by telecommunications operators.
“The commission carefully evaluated the complaints received especially against the backdrop of sustaining the integrity of the networks, the general interest of the consumers, the socio-economic impact of the promotions on operators and other relevant stakeholders, before concluding on the ban,” Ojobo said.
The operators affected by the ban include: Globacom, MTN, Airtel, Etisalat, Intercellular, Visafone, and Multilinks.
Lottery Commission’s View
Responding to the ban on promos and lotteries, Director-General, National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), Mr. Peter Igho, said the ban was in good fate and in the interest of the general public.
He however regretted that the ban came at a time his commission was trying to redeem the image of lottery activities in the country and make its importance known to Nigerians.
According to him, lotteries all over the world were capable of generating huge sum of money for economies, insisting that the same could be replicated in Nigeria, if properly managed.
He said his commission took it upon itself to strictly monitor telecoms promos and lotteries across the country, in order to ensure that subscribers were not short-changed and that the operators delivered on promise.
He frowned on telecoms promos and lotteries that encouraged indiscriminate use of free airtime and short messages (SMS), which compelled subscribers to generate unplanned calls, just because they must exhaust their bonus call credits before a given time.
He said the situation attracted heavy traffic on networks, and might have led to congestion. “The lottery commission has entered into discussions with NCC on the way forward,” Igho said.
Members of the public, who spoke from a technical background, had come out to criticise the reasons advanced by the NCC for the ban.
A Lagos-based engineer, Mr. Johnson Ibe, who is a subscriber to Globacom and MTN, told THISDAY that promos and lotteries had nothing to do with network congestion and that people could freely participate in promos and lotteries and enjoy the benefits, without affecting service quality.
Speaking from an engineering perspective on promos and lotteries, Ibe said there was no evidence that previous promos, which ran between June and September 2012 on the major networks, caused any degradation in service quality.
“For the purposes of determining the kind of promos that will most likely degrade network service quality, a clear distinction must be made between premium rated promos which charge the subscribers a premium tariff to participate and win tangible prizes; and those promos that encourage indiscriminate use of free airtime and SMS,” Ibe said.
He described premium promos as the promos which subscribers consciously opt-in and participate by following steps which convey their unambiguous intention to subscribe and participate; and carry on for a predetermined period of time.
He explained that statistics available to him showed that less than 10 per cent of total subscriber base on a mobile network opt-in to participate in the premium rated promos, due largely to the premium charges and other conditions for participating.
He described free call/SMS promos as the promos, which reward the entire pre-paid subscriber base of a mobile network by allowing free airtime and free SMS upon reaching a daily usage limit.
An official of one of the telecoms operators, who spoke in anonymity, told THISDAY that if promos had been identified as a major cause of recent network degradation, then attention should shift to those promos ran by some operators that encouraged free calls and free SMS, as well as those promos that do not incorporate opt-in capabilities.
He advised the NCC to continue to impose financial sanctions where such operators fail to meet agreed service quality levels, insisting that it would ensure that the operators use network resources optimally and efficiently.
He also suggested that operators should refrain from running free voice and SMS promos for the time being, until notable improvements occurs on the network, and that all promos must provide clear opt-in and opt-out options.
He called on NCC to allow operators to run only promos approved by the lottery commission, which must meet national standards.
Telecoms subscribers have reacted differently to the promo ban. Some have hailed the decision of NCC, while others have cautioned NCC to thread with caution.
President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the ban would affect telecoms subscribers who had benefitted from promos as well as more subscribers that would have benefitted more, if there was no ban.
He gave instances of the aeroplane and luxurious buses promos, which he said were clear instances of how operators were empowering telecoms subscribers.
He however called on NCC and the federal government to make adequate provision for more infrastructure rollout, since the NCC believed that promos were causing congestion on the various networks.
Stephen Udoka, a subscriber to MTN network, hailed the decision of NCC on the ban.
According to him, the issue of promos were becoming uncontrollable and the operators were using it to abuse the intelligence of their subscribers. “It is frustrating when someone tries to pull a call across and such call will not go through because of congestion. It is equally frustrating for someone to try loading a mobile phone for days without being successful because of network congestion,” Udoka said.
He called on operators to always expand their networks commensurably with the rate of subscriber intake on their networks, if they must engage in promos. “At the end, only a handful of subscribers are fortunate to win the promos, while millions of subscribers suffer congestion as a result of the promos,” he added.
Blaming Congestion on Disasters
ALTON, however, has alternative views as to the actual cause of network congestion across networks.
Chairman of ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, who said the issue with network congestion was far from telecoms promos and lotteries, attributed the network challenges to natural and man-made disasters. According to him, the major cause of poor service quality across networks, as experienced in recent times, should be blamed on natural and man-made disasters, rather than on promos and lotteries.
He said the natural disasters were caused by flooding in some southern parts of the country, while the man-made disasters were caused by spontaneous attacks on telecoms facilities in some northern parts of the country by gunmen in September this year.
Insisting on natural and man-made disasters as root causes for network congestion, Adebayo said the attacks on telecoms facilities which occurred in the early hours of the 5th, 6th 7th and 8th of September 2012 and other incidences afterwards, resulted in severe service disruptions in the areas primarily affected and by extension other parts of the country.
“The impacts of the attacks had since limited the ability of millions of Nigerian subscribers to access telecommunications services, because the incidents affected over 250 telecoms sites that lost connection and many suffered significant damage beyond repairs,” Adebayo said.
He added that the unprecedented flood in some parts of the country destroyed Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) along its path, leading to significant service disruption in the affected areas, with consequential impact on service availability in some other parts that were not affected by the flood.
“Other than disruption to services, our members have lost equipment worth several billions of naira to the flood disaster across the country, as over additional 300 BTS sites were affected by the flood,” Adebayo said.
He called on government to provide the necessary protection to telecoms facilities in the national interest of the country.