Emma Okonji examines the regulatory approach to telecoms’ consumer-centric initiatives in the past five years, in line with Section 104-106 of the Nigerian Communication Act that mandate the industry regulator to protect telecoms consumers
Section 104-106 of the Nigerian Communication Act mandate the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, to protect telecoms consumers. Although as a regulator, NCC has introduced several strategies in the last five years to protect telecoms subscribers, it is believed that the regulator needs to do more in the area of consumer-centric initiatives that will boost customer experience given the myriad of complaints.
Such complaints from telecoms subscribers range from poor service quality, fast depletion of data, unsolicited text messages, high cost of mobile broadband, among others.
Since becoming the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC in 2015, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta-led NCC has prioritised the issue consumer protection. It has strengthened efforts on its Protect, Inform and Educate(PIE) mandate. Through its various outreach programmes such as the Consumer Town Hall Meeting (CTM), Consumer Outreach Programme (COP) and the Telecoms Consumer Parliament (TCP), the commission has educated thousands of the consumers across the nooks and crannies of the country, in a bid to empower the telecoms consumer. The declaration of 2017 as the Year of Telecoms Consumers by the NCC, is one of its consumer-centric initiatives, aside the introduction of 622 code as a second-level consumer complaints resolution mechanism, the introduction of Do-Not-Disturb DND 2442 Short code, which has empowered telecoms consumers to personally control what they receive in form of unsolicited text massages. Till date, over 22 million telecom consumers have signed up to DND, according to the figure released recently by the NCC. Also, recently, the commission unveiled a REVISED Consumer Complaints and Service Level Agreement (CC/SLA) to improve consumer complaint management and resolution in a more promptly matter by the service providers.
Another effort championed by Danbatta-led NCC to address consumer issues is the inauguration of a committee to combat the issue of financial losses through digital platforms. The committee, it was gathered, was drawn from a multi-sectoral committee to address telecoms consumer complaints.
Protecting consumers from financial fraud
In fulfillment of one of its fundamental statutory responsibilities of protecting the interests of the consumers of telecoms services, the NCC, last week, inaugurated a multi-sectoral committee to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on financial frauds also called electronic fraud (e-fraud) which are perpetrated through digital platforms. The committee, inaugurated in line with resolutions reached at a stakeholders’ forum on financial fraud organised by the NCC earlier this year, is set to harmonise the activities of critical stakeholders responsible for combating financial fraud committed through telecommunications platforms.
Inaugurating the committee in Abuja, Danbatta, said: “The inauguration of the committee is further demonstration of commission’s commitment to forge necessary strategic collaboration with other government agencies, industry players and other necessary stakeholders towards addressing critical industry issues for the benefit of all.” Danbatta, who was represented at the forum by the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management at NCC, Adeleke Adewolu, stated that with the attainment of 35.4 per cent broadband penetration, there has also been an increase in financial services. Expectedly, mobile platforms and applications have become the most common channels for conducting financial and other sundry transactions.
The EVC, however, noted that, as the uptake of these alternative channels grows, so have incidences of malevolent use of technology and attendant heavy losses suffered by consumers and other key stakeholders.
“Cybercriminals, hackers and other unscrupulous elements are exploiting online platform vulnerabilities to gain illegal access to bank accounts through phishing and other ploys such as fraudulent SIM swaps to bypass authentication security levels, regardless of whether the transactions are conducted via mobile phones, desktop browser, or on point of purchase,” Danbatta said.
The 26-man committee draws membership from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the NCC, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).
Other organisations with representation on the committee include the banks, security agencies such as the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau at NCC, Mrs. Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, said prior to the stakeholders forum, the incidence of financial fraud using telecom platforms had been pervasive, crossing all borders and boundaries and industry spectrum.
“The negative implications of such frauds were not only huge in financial losses but high in reputational damage to the telecom operators, the financial institutions, the regulators (NCC and CBN) security agencies and the nation as a whole,” Onwuegbuchulam said.
According to her, the commission had also been inundated with complaints on the unceasing cases of financial fraud via the use of telecom platforms and, as a result, was poised at seeking initiatives aimed at creating greater awareness on the issues as well as creating ways of mitigating problems arising from its occurrence.
The Stakeholders forum was, indeed, one of the initiatives put in place by the Commission to harness ideas and solutions towards solving/ mitigating the menace.
At the end of the forum, some of the resolution points adopted, which formed the communique for the event, include: Telecommunication operators(Telcos) and banks to complete the process to collaborate and share adequate information on SIM Swap incidents.
Telcos should strictly adhere to the NCC SIM Replacement Guidelines 2017.
NCC should work towards a seamless collaboration with National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and Nigeria Inter Bank Settlement Systems (NIBBS) on the use of Biometrics to curb financial fraud.
Banks should take responsibility on all financial transactions as it affects its customers.
Other resolutions include: The chief risk officer of banks should be included amongst the officers that can demand for relevant information from Telcos in the event of a telecom related fraud.
Banks should provide 24/7 toll free line service that customers can call to report suspected cases of financial fraud especially in the case of stolen phones or suspected SIM Swap, and All stakeholders should prioritise customer awareness and education on financial fraud issues within their individual sectors, among others.
Addressing consumer complaints
Speaking at a recent presentation of the final reviewed report of the complaints categories and service level agreement designed to address telecoms consumer complaints, Danbatta said the unveiling of the final report of the reviewed Complaints Categories and Service Level Agreements, was designed for prompt and effective complaint resolution/ redress in line with the evolving trends and realities of the industry. The robust review exercise, which commenced in 2017 was finalised in May 2019. The exercise was geared towards harnessing all relevant regulatory policies, regulations and guidelines for the protection, information, education and relative empowerment of telecom consumers in Nigeria.
“The protection information, education and indeed empowerment of consumers is one of the central elements of the 8-Point Agenda or vision strategy my leadership adopted to guide our regulatory activities when I assumed office as the EVC of the NCC in August 2015. Other elements of the vision strategy include: the promotion of competition and inclusive growth; ensuring regulatory excellence and operational efficiency; the optimisation of the usage and benefits of spectrum as well as the promotion of ICT innovation and investment opportunities. All of these elements serve one principal purpose, and that is to ensure that all elements of the service ecosystem work seamlessly to ensure that consumers get best-in-class service at the most affordable price points without being unduly taken advantage of,” Danbatta said, adding that as regulator, the commission promises not to relent in enforcing compliance to the agreement.
“It is my sincere wish that the review and adoption of the report by stakeholders and the industry will enhance consumer protection, information, education, empowerment and satisfaction, which can only lead to a more dynamic industry in growth and impact,” Danbatta added.
Trends, resolution in consumer complaints
The NCC in its bid to implement the provision of Chapter II, Part 1, Section 4(b) of Nigerian Communications Act,(NCA 2003), established the Consumer Affairs Bureau and charged it with the mandate to protect and promote the interest of consumers against unfair practices, including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges, for, availability and quality of communications services, equipment and facilities.
According to NCC, there has been a major leap in complaint resolution in 2019 as compared to 2018. The commission, therefore advised service providers not relent in their efforts towards ensuring the timely resolution of consumer issues at first level basis in order to prevent the re-escalation of such complaints from the NCC second level support.
According to recent statistics release by the NCC, there was major improvement in resolving consumer complaints in 2019 with an average of 96.66 per cent complaint resolution rate as against 57.65 per cent in 2018 for complaints escalated from NCC 622 Contact Centre. NCC puts the level of improvement on consumer complaints at 39.01 per cent. For complaints from NCC consumer portal, NCC said there was also major improvement in the complaint resolution rate from 65.5 per cent in 2018 to 88.07 per cent in 2019, which is a 22.57 per cent improvement. For complaints from NCC Social Media Platforms, the commission said there was also a major improvement from 50.56 per cent in 2018 to 74.93 per cent in 2019 with regards to complaint resolution, which is 24.37 per cent improvement.
However, for written complaints received by the commission, there seemed to be a decline in 2019 with 53.22 per cent as against 86.47 per cent in 2018, which is a decline of 33.25 per cent, according to NCC’s statistics.
Pleased with the level of complaints resolution achieved by the NCC, Onwuegbuchulam said consumer satisfaction remained key to sustainable teecommunications industry. According to her, prompt and efficient complaint resolution within stipulated timelines, remained vital for consumer satisfaction.
NCC therefore, called for all hands to be on deck to ensure that complaints are not only attended to but resolved as at when due. This, NCC, added, would enhance and improve the complaint resolution rate from the current cumulative average of 78.22 per cent as at Oct 2019 to at least 99.99 per cent by December 2019.