The collective plan by the telecoms industry regulator and operators to celebrate consumers, underscores the importance of customers in the digital era, writes Emma Okonji
Between 2001 and 2017, the growth of telecoms consumers was very tremendous, and this growth, no doubt, shaped the Nigerian telecoms industry, which had since been globally adjudged as the fastest growing telecoms market in Africa and the rest of the world.
As at 2001 when the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was introduced in Nigeria, telecoms subscriber number was less than 400,000, with a teledensity of 0.4 per cent, but between 2001 and 2017, the number rose in a geometric progression to hit 154 million, with a teledensity of 110.80 per cent in 2017.
The continuous rise in telecoms consumer growth, did not only boost the financial strength of telecoms service providers and telecoms contribution to GDP, it also spurred telecoms operators to develop value added services that enhanced consumer experiences.
It is for these reasons and several others that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, in collaboration with telecoms operators, declared 2017 as the Year of Telecoms Consumers, in order to celebrate the telecoms subscribers as kings and queens, which they are in their own rights.
The old perceptionÂ
Before 2001, telecoms consumers were not accorded their right places in the telecoms industry and their voices were not heard in any way, making them feel less important in a sector where their presence was supposed to be recognised.
At the time, subscribers to telecommunication services in Nigeria were treated with disdain and as second-class citizens in the country. The poor treatment continued until NCC realised the need to project and protect telecoms consumers, when it established the monthly Telecoms Consumer Parliament and the Consumer Outreach Programmes, focused at giving the consumer a voice, by bringing the consumers and the operators together on a monthly basis and allowing the consumers to voice their complains directly to telecoms operators and at the end of the day, there was always amicable settlement of all consumer related issues raised.
The two years of the introduction of Telecoms Consumer Parliament, saw massive turnout of consumes and the resolutions reached at such gathering, gradually reduced network challenges, as complained by consumers.
The new perception
As the years go by, more emphasis are being placed on consumers education, rights, privileges, options, choices and power by government in the country through the NCC.
Today NCC is empowering the consumers with fresh binding policies on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Internet Service Provider (ISPs) and Content Providers especially in areas of dispute resolutions, complain channel mechanism, Service quality, telemarketing and Short Message Service (SMS) to give their consumers choice and options to control this.
The subscribers are now like employers in the labour market that have the prerogative to hire and fire any erring operator and can also determine by way of controlling telemarketing messages which are mostly unsolicited as subscribers mostly do not bargain for it.
Some of the telecoms consumers who spoke with THISDAY, commended NCC and the telecoms operators for the initiative, which they said would make them have a sense of belonging among operators in the telecoms sector. They particularly commended NCC for introducing the ‘Do Not Disturb’ code that gives subscribers the power to choose the kind of messages they want receive on their mobile phones.
â€œMy network operator can send more than 20 messages to me advertising their products and others. Some will even call you. And all these come at most awkward times of the day,” a subscriber working with the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, Mr. Tope Ayodele said.
â€œThe trend now gets common with all the mobile operators leaving their subscribers to live by it. But with this new development from NCC, the operators have no choice as we their consumers now determines the flow of message to receive from the network services and if we donâ€™t want it at all we now have a choice and option,â€ another subscriber with one of the telecoms companies, Adebimpe Sanni, also said.
NCC’s initiative on consumerÂ
On March 15, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Danbatta, launched a national consumer targeted campaign in the sector which emphasises telecoms subscribersâ€™ protection and education.
This came as the regulator developed a code tagged â€˜Do-Not-Disturbâ€™ using the 2442 facility binding on all the network service providers to activate on their network. This invariably gives subscribers the opportunity to control the machine messages from their service providers with more other options.
According to Danbatta, Nigeria telecoms subscribers can now text â€œSTOPâ€ to 2442 to avoid unsolicited messages and â€œHELPâ€ to 2442 for options. Should customersâ€™ complaints not satisfactorily resolved with their operators, the industry regulator can now swiftly swing in through NCC 622 toll free line.
The Lagos State launch of the Year of the Consumer, which was held recently in Ikeja, was focused on two key areas: improving the Quality of Service; Protecting and Educating the Consumer. In attendance was the state government, league of the mobile network operators, internet service providers and industry watchers and cross section of telecoms consumers associations.
Speaking at the launch, Danbatta stated that the Lagos launch emphasised the position of the state as the telecommunications hub of Nigeria
â€œLagos State is home to many of the key players in the telecommunications sector so it is understandable that is has been selected as the launch city after the major event in Abuja on March 15 2017,â€ he said.
Quoting the latest telecommunications report from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, Danbatta puts Lagos voice subscriber base at 19.04 million or 12.8 per cent of the countryâ€™s subscribers and 12.62 million internet subscription or 13.65 per cent.
He added that the campaign since the launch in Abuja two months ago has yielded some progress resulting in an increase in the activation of the Do-Not-Disturb short code using the 2442 facility, by more than one million consumers within a short period. He disclosed that more subscribers reported their unresolved complaints using NCCâ€™s 622 toll-free lines in the same period.
NCCâ€™s Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, Mr. Sunday Dare, noted that the Year of the Consumer campaign was significant because it was the first time the NCC wouldÂ single out the consumer and dedicate a year of activities towards safeguarding the rights, protecting the interests, and empowering the consumer to make informed decisions
â€œThe consumer is one of the key stakeholders in the stakeholder ladder of the NCC. With a base of over 154 million subscribers, the Nigerian consumers dominate the African telecommunications landscape,â€ he asserted.
Dare promised that NCC would strive to ensure customer satisfaction and attains a level never witnessed before, adding that the goal is to make the consumer experience of the average Nigerian better.
MNOs and ISPs support for consumersÂ
Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) representatives present at the launch campaign in Lagos took turn to share their stances on the consumer initiative; this however comes after the NCC had met with these operators on different occasions in Abuja on the subject matter.
They however told consumers at the Lagos forum that the Do-Not-Disturb code would remain active on their networks and that they would expand their customersâ€™ services networks in other to give adequate attentions to consumersâ€™ complaints and challenges in shortest time, coupled with best service delivery without any need to complain to the regulator.
Some of the operators who spoke at the forum include, MTN, GLO, Etisalat, Airtel, Smile, ntel, Spectranet, among others, while advocacy associations such as National Association of Telecoms Consumers,(NATCOMS); Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON); Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), among others.
Lagos support for telecoms consumerÂ
The Lagos State House of Assembly commended the Nigerian Communications Commission for tagging 2017- Year of the Nigerian Telecom Consumers, which emphasises the protection and education of telecom consumers.
Speaker of the House, Mr. Mudashiru Obasa, who spoke at the launch, said NCCâ€™s regulatory expertise has paid off in the industry that boasts of about 155 million subscribers with about 20 million of them domiciled in Lagos.
Represented by a member representing Kosofe II Constituency in the House, Mr. Tunde Braimoh, the Speaker said the state would support initiatives that would lead to consumersâ€™ education and improved service delivery among operators. He said the House will not shy away from issues related to telecommunications activities and the stakeholders, because of the relevance to the affairs of the populace.
According to him, â€œNCC has done very well with regards to issues on consumer protection and the regulatory initiatives that lead to improved quality service delivery to the people. As the representatives of the people, Lagos State House of Assembly will not shy away from telecoms activities, because they touch the affairs of our people.”
The speaker also urged the NCC to mandate mobile network operators to also launch beneficial consumer products, even to the downtrodden.
Telecoms consumers’ contributionÂ
Describing telecoms consumers as important force to reckon with, Danbatta said their contribution to the Nigerian economy has been on the rise. According to him, in 2015, telecoms consumer contribution was N5.6 million and in 2016, the contribution rose to N6.3 million, totaling N11.9 million in two years. He was however optimistic that 2017 contribution would be higher than the previous years.
Following the laudable growth and achievement of telecoms subscribers, the NCC and the operators should be commended for celebrating the consumers of telecoms services.