Telecom network operators are yet to live up to expectations

“My office has been inundated with complaints, petitions and calls on the fraudulent and unauthorised charges by network operators in the country,” said Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communications, at a recent meeting with the telecom operators in the country. “It has been alleged that these unauthorised charges have been so prevalent. This action must stop immediately or else severe sanctions will be imposed on any operator that violates this directive.”

That was the latest in a series of warnings to the telecom network operators to get their act together. Besides the oft-repeated disappointing and unreliable services of the network operators pockmarked by high rate of dropped calls, poor voice quality, call diversions and delays in text message delivery, the minister was disillusioned that the service providers are outsmarting the government by under-declaring the revenue and profit raked off Nigerians. Yet there is also the growing concern of the increasing disengagement of Nigerians for foreigners, including even to do menial jobs. But more worrisome is that “the network cannot be reached, please try later”, has become the common refrain of virtually all telecom operators, as customers are made to endure lousy services.

Indeed, attempts had been made in the past to steer the telecom network providers from their uninspiring service delivery. In the midst of their dismal performance, the networks became inundated with advertorials and promotional items that invariably worsened the quality of service. Telecommunication operations became one big network of gambling businesses while the quality of service nosedived. It is noteworthy that for those same reasons, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) once imposed hefty penalties on all the major operators and a further ban on all manner of promotions.

However, in spite of repeated sanctions, the networks are again returning to their old ways. The extortion of subscribers has resurfaced in the form of dubious charges like “Fun, music box and sports den messages” by Etisalat; Hausa Amazing Fact Service charged by Glo; N50 charged for MTN Backup every two weeks; N50 for MTN CallerFeel per month, CallerTunez, Easynews and Holla Back Tones by Airtel, etc.

With dropped calls and non-completion of calls now standard practices, many telecom subscribers have simply resigned themselves to their fate. Even the expensive habit of carrying two or three phone handsets of different networks is to no avail since there are periods when none of the networks would work. Also the impact of the mobile number portability – an initiative which gives subscribers the leeway to move their telephone numbers to any network of choice in search of better service quality- has not provided the desired outcome. The bottom-line is that the quality of service by the telecom operators is still less than satisfactory.

Even if we admit that the telecoms infrastructure in the country is inadequate, the nation’s teledensity has continued to grow despite poor services. Operators have not helped their case by repeatedly turning deaf ears to the charge by the former Minister of Communications Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson that they should “roll out more base stations and other telecoms infrastructure that will improve service quality across the country.”

Currently, there are some 25,000 base stations spread across the country, serving over 150 million subscribers and about 100,000 kilometres of fibre for the same number of subscribers. These structures, according to industry experts, are grossly inadequate for the huge subscriber base that our network operators carry. That may then partly explain why Nigerian subscribers and consumers of telecommunication services are not getting value for their money.

As such, whatever it will take to enforce compliance, the authorities must do everything to ensure that subscribers are spared the agony of continued poor service delivery from the networks.