By Emma Okonji
Telecoms operators under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have said it will be difficult to offer free data and voice call services to telecoms subscribers during the period of sit-at-home order, just to avoid network congestion that could lead to national catastrophe.
The operators were reacting to calls from some subscribers who were of the view that telecoms operators should provide free and unlimited data and voice call services throughout the period the COVID-19.
The Chairman of ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, told THISDAY in a telephone interview that the call for free data and voice calls could lead to network congestion and result in a national catastrophe when there is a total collapse of the network.
According to Adebayo, “If we attempt to offer free data and voice calls or even slash tariff at this period, more people will tend to make more calls than usual, which will result in network congestion.
We must therefore balance the call for free service with that of network congestion. What the nation need most at this point in time is availability of quality service at every location that will enable telecoms subscribers get connected easily during this period of sit-at-home order by the government.”
Adebayo, however said telecoms operators were already providing some forms of palliative for telecoms subscribers as well as support for government agencies.
He said MTN was already giving out free 30 SMS in 30 days, with each subscriber not exceeding 10 SMS per day. He also said the communication equipment currently used by the various health centres across the country, including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), was provided free of charge by telecoms operators, including toll free lines to some designated numbers that subscribers could use free of charge throughout the period the Coronavirus outbreak.
He commended the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the presidential task force for granting telecoms operators the approval for Right of Passage (RoP) that woul enable telecoms staff on essential duty to freely move around while ensuring that the networks operate at optimal capacities throughout the period of the sit-at-home order.
The Association of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers (ATCIS) had also called on telecommunications companies in Nigeria to reduce tariffs for voice and data services on their networks in the light of the current disruption triggered by Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
The consumer advocacy body stressed that now that most companies have resorted to remote operations and people are dealing with movement restrictions, everyone is left with voice calls, small messaging service (SMS) and data services to keep up with daily business trends and social realities.
In a statement issued by ATCIS and signed by its National President, Prince Sina Bilesanmi, the association urged operators to be patriotic and not exploit the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to rake in easy money.
Bilesanmi added: “With self-isolation, and with federal government directive that many institutions be closed as well as curfew in some states to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed, this will naturally lead to change in consumer behavior.
“These changes are reflected in the uptake in the usage of collaborative tools to communicate, to do business and work from home as well as e-learning starting from primary, secondary to tertiary institutions.
“However, the situation at hand is a very delicate one and the only way we can have a breakthrough is by prioritising patriotism above personal gains and gratifications. Everyone is caught almost unprepared by COVID-19, therefore forcing us to abandon our places of works and start working from home.
“We cannot do this unless we have access to telecommunications services for voice and data. This may appear a good time for our mobile network operators (MNOs) to rake in more money as rate of spending on voice and data multiplies, but it should however,not be seen in this manner.
“Our telecoms service providers, especially, MTN, Glo, Airtel, 9mobile, and others should see this time as an opportunity for them to further exhibit their value as responsible corporate citizens by slashing tariffs on calls and data bundles.”