Special Report: How Corruption Hinders Regulation Of Telecom Service Providers

Special Report: How Corruption Hinders Regulation Of Telecom Service Providers
April 04 04:56 2014 Print This Article


By Benjamin Umuteme

The joy of Nigerians knew no bound when telecommunications giant, MTN began operations in the Nigerian telecoms market in 2001 as the first GSM company.

This was followed by Econet which has changed ownership many times to now finally become Airtel. There was also the NITEL Mobile line before Globacom and Etisalat joined the fray.

But the joy and enthusiasm that greeted the arrival of the Telecommunications companies has since evaporated due to epileptic services that they render.

In spite of various complaints against the service providers, the regulators have not been able to call them to order, rather the situation has worsened.

From dropped calls to unsolicited messages to extraneous charges and forceful registration of subscribers to various services they offer, the service providers have Nigerians at their mercies.

However, the inability of both Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission to properly do their job has not helped the situation.

From the time of former NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe to the present Executive Chairman, the stories have not charged:

‘NCC will sanction erring service providers’. Apart from making the service providers to pay a few millions of naira for ripping off Nigerian, NCC has been a toothless regulator-unable to perform its duty.

It is not however unconnected to the patronage being enjoyed by NCC officials from the various service providers.

FrontiersNews investigations revealed that many staff of NCC no longer pays for phone calls as the lines have been designated as toll free.

An insider who confided in FrontiersNews said that the service providers even sponsor special events that are held by some of the Commission’s staff especially those in the Technical Standards and Network Integrity and the Legal and Regulatory Directorates.

The say, the wedding and birthday ceremonies of some top management officers of the Commission are known to have been sponsored by the GSM companies.

According to the Act setting up the Nigerian Communications Commission, it is empowered to establish minimum Quality of Service (QoS) standards in service delivery for the telecommunications industry.

These QoS standards ensure that consumers continue to have access to high quality telecommunications service by setting basic minimum quality levels for all operators.

These standards define the lower and upper bounds of acceptability of such technical issues as transmission rates, error rates, call completion rates, etc. and commercial consumer issues such as access to customer care centres, billing integrity and other characteristics that can be measured and improved.

Also, Section 89 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 mandates the Commission to monitor all significant matters relating to the performance of all licensed telecoms service providers and publish annual reports at the end of each financial year, the NCC has developed Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement strategies to prosecute the above mandate and achieve the Commission’s objective of fair competition, ethical market conduct and optimal quality of service in the Nigerian telecommunications industry.

The way it is at the moment, the Commission has abandoned that aspect of the Act.

“It is going to be difficult to for us to properly regulate this people. There are times we had wanted to take action against the GSM companies but we got a call from the Minister intervening in the issue.

Also, the companies will always remind you that they have had to provide all the infrastructures themselves-which has not been easy to maintain. So it’s quite difficult! We will continue to do our best in the circumstance we find ourselves.

When FrontiersNews visited the Corporate Headquarters of NCC, the Head of Public Affairs, Mr. Lazarus Mouka was said to be out on an official engagement.

Even the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has not fared better in its mandate to deliver Nigerian telephone users from the hands of service providers.

Even the Director General, Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Mrs. Dupe Atoki did admit the Council’s seeming helpless when she told a gathering of journalists that CPC summoned the “service providers and they refused to turn up for the meeting.”

She added that until the CPC act before the National Assembly is amended, the Council will find it difficult to put its foot down and sanction GSM service providers for providing poor quality services to Nigerians.

The implication is that in spite of its famed slogan of protecting Nigerian consumers, it lacks the constitutional powers to match its words with action.

Senator Odion Ugbesia was speaking the minds of millions Nigerian when he described the ordeal of telecoms subscribers in the hands of Nigerian telecoms service providers as disheartening.

Senator Ugbesia insisted that service providers have continued to provide Nigerians with epileptic services because Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) refused to do its job.

“They are taking advantage of us, everybody come into Nigeria with telephone make money and get out. The regulatory agencies should call them to order, sanction them if need be. And I think there is need for such an action.”

Mr. Ugbesia pointed out that many telecoms subscribers are not able to seek redress due to a lack of knowledge of their rights as consumers.

According to angry Mr. Peter Olaitan, “it is not about been aware of your right as a consumer, it is the attitude of the regulators that have embolden the GSM companies to continue in their subject Nigerian phone users to all manner of things.”

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