Minister Warns Telcos, VAS Operators against Unsolicited SMS

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Emma Okonji

The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu has warned telecoms operators (Telcos) and Value Added Service (VAS) providers to stop broadcasting unsolicited short message service (SMS), popularly known as text messages, or risk sanction.

The minister, who gave the warning in Lagos recently, expressed deep concern over the rate at which telecoms and VAS operators flood the mobile phones of subscribers with promotional messages that they did not solicit for.

He said the situation was becoming embarrassing to Nigerian subscribers, including the minister, who also receives such SMS intermittently on his mobile phone.

According to him, such unsolicited messages are embarrassing because they are transmitted as bulk messages and in most cases, the messages hit the mobile phones of subscribers at a time when subscribers are expecting important messages, only for them to open their phones to see all manners of promotional messages that are annoying to read because they make no meaningful impact on their lives.

Apart from the inconveniences that such SMS cause to subscribers, Adebayo said the subscribers are also charged for messages that are meaningless to them. He described the situation as a rip-off on the part of subscribers, which he said must stop immediately.

“We have over 170 million subscribers and the charges of operators vary from N50/week to N100/month, which amounts to huge sum of money for the operators, at the expense of subscribers,” Adebayo said.

He, however, explained that he had summoned all telecoms and VAS operators to a meeting in Abuja, where he highlighted the implications of their actions on subscribers and warned them to stop it, yet they kept broadcasting the messages with impunity.

He warned that should the broadcast of unsolicited SMS persists, he would force operators to make refunds of such monies deducted from subscribers, on demand.
President of National Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Deolu Ogunbanjo had in the past, raised the alarm on the amount of money charged by Telcos and VAS operators for unsolicited messages and called on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, to address the issue.

Before now, telecoms operators have denied any involvement in unsolicited SMS, blaming it on VAS operators who were licensed by the NCC to provide certain services to subscribers.

Four GSM operators, MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat had in different consumer parliament fora organised by NCC denied sending unsolicited messages to operators. They explained that they went as far as introducing a dedicated code on their networks, tagged ‘Do Not Disturb’, which gives subscribers the opportunity to subscribe to it, if they do not want to be receiving such messages.

Aside warning on the unsolicited messages, the minister also appealed to telecoms operators, through the Telecoms Advisory Council of the Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ATCON), to address the poor service quality across operating networks, which he said, ranged from drop calls, poor voice clarity, call diversion, delay in delivering text messages among others.