James Emejo in Abuja
The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) on Wednesday requested the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to draw out a special compensation plan for telecoms subscribers for the continued poor service quality by mobile phone networks in the country.
It warned that the continuing consumer rights abuses by the operators had reached “intolerable” pitch.
Speaking in Abuja during a courtesy visit to Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, CPC’s Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki outlined the violations of consumer rights by the mobile network operators to include poor quality of service-especially high rate of drop calls and unsolicited text messages, even at odd hours.
Other infractions include unauthorised conscription of consumers into some telecom services or packages, especially caller tunes, without easy opting out options.
She said the identified breaches required “immediate regulatory attention”.
According to her, other concerns bothered on the disruption of internet service without prior notice to consumers; lack of compensation for down times; unfavourable data roll-over terms; and non-provision of detailed billing information on used data.
Other are the unfavourable customer care centres; ineffective customer care lines; and non-transparent sales promotion terms and conditions.
Adoki further stressed need to step up collaboration between the two agencies to address some of the consumers’ concerns, noting that despite NCC directives on unsolicited SMS, operators still indulged in the practice of sending these messages at odd hours, thereby infringing on the rights of individuals for a decent rest.
She said:”There should be a compensation policy put in place, where in if you have been short-changed for 10 seconds, you get your money back. And if that can be cumulative, in a month, or in a quarter, that amount of money that has consistently being short-changed can be calculated and reemitted to the consumer whether at the equivalent in cash or in airtime.”
Continuing, she said: “We are not unmindful of the challenges that operators put out as being responsible for poor service, some of which are vandalism of equipment, double taxation or even cost of laying cables.
“But for us, our concern is that, if we pay for these services, as long as you are in business and declaring profit, it is not in the interest of consumers to be faced with poor quality of service. If the challenges in the operating system environment still enable the operators to be in business and to make profit, then they are not fundamental enough to justify poor quality.”
Atoki explained that the purpose of the Council’s visit was to intimate the NCC’s boss of her organisation’s imminent full-scale investigation into the telecom sector, noting that a strengthened relationship would enhance the protection of telecom subscribers in the country.
Responding, Danbata, said the poor telecom service being experienced by subscribers were due to two major factors, categorised as technical and non-technical.
He said while the commission has the expertise to address the technical issues, the non-technical aspects regarding paucity of supporting infrastructure, could only be addressed by the three tiers of government.
However, on the CPC planned intervention in the telecoms sector, the NCC Vice Chairman cautioned the Council to exercise some restraint in embarking on such an assignment, stressing that only the NCC could determine parameters for drop calls.
Danbata said: “You have touched on very important subject that the commission is striving very hard to ensure improvement on and that is the quality of service. In wanting to conduct your investigation, you will seriously be handicapped because of the way we measure quality of service here.”
He said: “This is one of the regulatory things we do and we have established expertise doing this over the years to the extent that regulators over the continent of Africa come here in order to bring to bear the best practice that we have here in regulating their own sector.
“You spoke about drop calls, I think the parameters that characterise quality of service are divided into two. One is made of technical parameters which only NCC have the capacity to measure, appraise and give directive to operators to improve in the event these parameters fall below stipulated level. I hardly don’t see any role CPC can play in the determination of these parameters.”