Who Will Save Telecom Subscribers?


Subscribers of mobile network providers in the country are brazenly ripped off on a daily basis with no protection from the relevant regulatory bodies Adedayo Adejobi writes

Aunty Matilda is getting on in years but remains fiercely independent; she lives on a fixed income but in the same home she’s had for half-a-century. Sadly, many members of her family have passed away and those who are alive are dispersed around the country. Making matters worse, she is having a harder time making sense of her never-ending stream of bills, especially her mobile phone bills.

This reporter regularly visits Aunty Matilda to keep her company and to help her pay her bills. When I arrived one morning recently, she was in a state. She had attempted to place a long-distance call through her mobile network provider but found that her service had been summarily stopped. If this had been the first time that this had occurred, I would have assumed it was a technical screw-up and accepted it as an inconvenience. Unfortunately, this was the umpteenth time the service had been arbitrarily stopped and a distraught Aunty Matilda said, “Enough, already,” and ended service with the mobile network provider.

If you live in Nigeria, there is a good chance you’ve been overwhelmed by your drop calls, hidden charges, undelivered text messages that are billed countless times and internet -wireless plan. Simply using a device essential to your daily life, you are daily ripped off! Nigerians have lost count of the many ways they daily get ripped off.
One common expectation of any consumer is to get his or her money worth for services paid for. However, when it comes to Nigeria, no matter how much demand consumers make, they are still likely to be given less value for their hard-earned money.

Fredrick Kunle Adegboye, another subscriber, laments thus: “You do not have to be a subscriber to know how poor they are with their services. I never subscribed to Facebook on my phone as I only use my phone to call and send text messages, but my mobile network provider has been charging me 25 naira every week since last year, 2015, for service I did not apply for or use! If the phone of every person you try to reach is not switched off, then all the people you are calling are busy on their phones.

“If there is no network congestion, then the call you are paying for will cut off anytime the conversation is getting interesting. If the internet dungle, wi-fi or modem you purchased will not take forever to open a page, then it will disconnect the moment you see something that you really want to read or look at. If the little rains will not disrupt your internet service, it will surely make it excessively slow. If the credit (units) on your phone is not being stolen when you have not used them, then you are a lucky Nigerian.”

Amaka Eze a subscriber to one of the mobile network providers in an anger-laden voice said, “it gets really frustrating when I am trying to make very important phone calls and I am told I have no credit to make a call when my balance says otherwise. If I do not have to wait till my battery dies before I get to speak to a customer service agent, he or she will intentionally cut the phone call when I begin to tell them my problem and figure they cannot help.”

According to Bimbo Amusan, an aggrieved subscriber, “sometimes when I load my phone, my call credit goes away without subscribing to the purported tariff plan that sweeps away my call units. All their tariff packages are so fraudulent. I am daily ripped off. How cruel can they be?”
Local and foreign telecommunications companies operating in the country take comfort in having millions of customers locked into unfriendly plans. The government at federal level as a regulator has taken a break from doing much of anything to mull over this.

Nigeria’s current economy and, by extension, political crisis is a tale of the return of corporate trusts. It involves not only the financial institutions deemed too-big-to-fail, but the health-insurance combine, the energy conglomerates and the duopoly of telecommunications and cable-entertainment companies that dominate the Nigerian economy. Each is engaged in the systematic plunder of the Nigerian consumer, providing less service at increasingly inflated prices. All done under the blind eyes of federal regulators that are not doing their job.

Nothing offers a better insight into the ongoing telecom rip-off and the complicity of the regulatory bodies that have ostensible oversight over the telecom industry than a careful consideration of a hypothetical telephone bill, Aunty Matilda’s bill. For there is no better way to conceal a theft than to make it so transparently visible that no one sees it.

Conventional telecom bills from all the network providers can be a “stand alone” local bill, long distance, Internet, broadband or a combination of these as a package of services. Each is a minefield of hidden fees, questionable surcharges and dubious taxes all designed to enrich the telecom’s bottom line without requiring any meaningful improvement in customer service.

The old arguments in defence of high data charges in Nigeria cannot be justified. Telecommunication companies in Nigeria have mature 3G networks and have rolled out 4G (LTE) networks targeting areas of high population density initially. All over the world, technology costs have continued to fall. Backhaul, core and international bandwidth costs have continued to fall, but on the flipside the costs keep skyrocketing in Nigeria

In the days of NITEL, local service used to be a “bundled” service before emergence of mobile telecom companies in 2007 which came with unlimited local phone calling, unlimited directory assistance, package of free calls, call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding, data bundle and international roaming charges amongst a retinue of other anomalies, thus allowing the consumer pay a whopping skyrocketing 51 per cent in specific hidden charges.
Adding insult to injury, these charges are taxed over 33 per cent covering both federal and state taxes.
For the Aunty Matilda and countless millions of Nigerians who still use such service, they are being systematically ripped off.

Making matters more confusing, there are more than 30 different active plans with fees ranging from N500 toN20,000.00 per month.
Nigerian telecommunications companies are increasingly promoting “packages” that benefit heavy users, but “low volume” customers like Aunty Matilda pay a lot more.
A major problem is the basic confusion in the offering between the advertised price and the billed fee sent to customers that can be 15-40 per cent higher.

Telecom regulation suffers the same fate as did the banks under the watch-less eye of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). No regulator has jurisdiction over fraudulent phone bills. No regulator has actually examined all the charges on the phone bills. Hiding behind the claim that industry deregulation has taken place recently, regulators readily allow market competition fix everything to the detriment of the suffering average Nigerians.
For Nigerians, one of the most frustrating aspects of mobile devices is paying for data that’s not used one month and then paying an exorbitant amount for going over the plan allowance the next month.

Pundits say this situation is likely to only get worse as further industry consolidation takes place with networks introducing Broadband plan, thus raising customer telecommunications rates in five different ways namely, the service tax on all long distance and local call rates, Broadband tax.
The telecom fibre optics upgrade which the providers undergo and pass the cost to consumers, the rip off is one of the great scams perpetrated against the Nigerian people.

The billions so far charged Nigerian telecom customers for these upgrades were based on promises to enhance Internet connectivity at offices, schools, libraries and hospitals. Sadly, little of this promise has taken place. All that telecom customers can count on is seeing their bills steadily rise.

In theory, the NCC is supposed to make sure that the Telcos, who are leaseholders on the public spectrum, actually serve the public interest. In reality, the agency has been letting the telephone industry rip off Nigerians for almost a decade under the laughable theory that there’s actually real competition in the market.

The telephone wireless industry is particularly uncompetitive and consumer unfriendly, allowed by regulators to do horrible things to customers to switch carriers. The NCC clearly needs to rouse itself and crack down on a whole host of abusive practices, strengthen policies that safeguard competition.
Aunty Matilda at the age of 60, she is a victim of consumer rip off and wants justice. It is a call we should all embrace as we contest the tyranny of the telecommunication companies in Nigeria.