Averting Fresh Tussle Between Telecoms Regulator, Operators on Service Quality

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Emma Okonji writes on the need to douse the tension created by the recent threat of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to sanction telecom operators for poor service quality, amidst the complaints of challenging environment by the latter
In 2012, when the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) slammed a combined fine of N1.17 billion on four GSM operators for poor service quality across networks, the operators were disturbed not only because of the whopping amount that was involved, but also because of the persistent style of NCC, the telecoms regulator, in using fine as a measure to address the lingering poor state of service quality in the telecoms industry.
Consequently, the operators ganged up against the commission and vowed never to pay the fine. They insisted that fine was not the best method to correct the anomalies in the system and challenged NCC to address the factors militating against better service quality in the industry, rather than imposing fine on operators.
Even as NCC added a stiffer penalty of N2.5 million per day for each operator, as long as the contravention continued, the operators were at first not moved by it and stood their grounds that they were not going to pay both the fine and the daily penalty.
It was like a showdown between the NCC and the operators, but after several weeks of trading blames, the NCC decided to lower the standard of its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), with which its uses to measure network performances. Based on that decision on KPI, the operators reluctantly paid the fine, several weeks after the fine was imposed. No details were however given that the operators paid the daily penalty.
A breakdown of the combined N1.17 billion fine showed that MTN Nigeria Communications and Etisalat, paid the sum of N360 million, each while Airtel paid the sum of N270 million. Globacom paid the sum of N180 million.
NCC however advised the operators to take advantage of the lowered standards in its KPIs, to maintain stable network quality, and warned operators to either maintain better service quality on their networks before December 2013, or face another round of sanction.
NCC’s Fresh Threat
Worried that telecoms operators have again failed to meet the ultimatum given by it to improve service quality on their networks by December 2013, the NCC recently wrote a warning letter to all operators, threatening to impose another sanction on them.
An inside source at NCC told THISDAY that the commission was already annoyed with telecoms operators in the country for failing to meet up with its current Key Performance Indicator (KPI), despite lowering the standards for operators since 2012.
The source said NCC had already written the operators, expressing its dissatisfaction over the issue and has threatened to impose a new line of sanction on virtually all the operators, whom the commission said, have again failed to meet its KPI standards.
The new sanction is that, apart from paying a fine of N5 million per operator, and a daily fine of N500,000 as long as the contravention persists, the operators will be banned from further sales of their SIM cards across the country.
The source quoted the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah as saying that he leniently lowered the KPI standards in 2012, to encourage operators, but that the operators rather went to sleep or were busy chasing customers to their networks, without making efforts to improve their networks. Juwah is angry with them and has vowed to impose sanction after 31 December 2013, if the networks did not improve, the source said.
Operators’ Response
Also worried that the NCC is over stretching the operators on the issue of service quality, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, has cautioned NCC to thread softly over the issue of service quality, in order not to kill the industry and rubbish it of its past glories.
Adebayo who spoke with THISDAY on the issue, said, “Let the fine and penalty come, we are waiting for it, but I must state clearly that fines and penalties will not address the issue of poor service quality in the telecoms sector, but will rather aggravate it.”
Adebayo who acknowledged the NCC’s threat letter, said the telecoms industry had done so well since the operation of GSM in 2001, in the area of job creation, individual empowerment, and economic boost, but wondered why a single issue about poor service quality, would be allowed to erode the gains of telecoms in the past 12 years.
He warned that the regulator, the media, and the operators themselves must be careful on how the issue of poor service quality was being handled. He insisted that if the matter was not properly addressed, NCC should be blamed for its inability to manage the situation, after several complaints from the operators, over their challenges in rendering better service quality.
Adebayo challenged NCC to address the issue, rather than apportioning blame on telecoms service providers.
Subscribers’ Position
Some subscriber that spoke with THISDAY on the matter, were equally worried just like the regulator and the operators, that the issue of poor service quality still lingered, in spite of efforts made by government, regulators, and the operators to address it.
Mr. Johnson Dubem, a subscriber to MTN and Globacom said subscribers suffered a lot of challenges in telecoms services delivered in 2013. According to him, subscribers aught to be treated nicely with the best service quality, because we spend our hard earned monies on recharge cards, yet service delivery is still poor.
Another subscriber, Mrs. Chinelo Odiaka told THISDAY that the situation is getting worst this Yuletide season. Now that we are celebrating Christmas, more people make calls and send text messages to their loved ones. Operators should know that they should expand their networks to accommodate increased volume of calls and text messages this season, but they will not do so, she said. According to her, “Every year we experience traffic jam on the networks and this year is not an exception. The operators have to address the situation now,” she said.
President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo who also spoke to THISDAY on some of the challenges faced by telecoms subscribers, listed them to include frequent drop calls, poor voice clarity, inability to recharge phones, late delivery of text messages, among others. Ogunbanjo who had called for compensation of telecoms subscribers over poor service quality, frowned to a situation where the operators deliberately refused to compensate subscribers on their networks for failed telecoms service delivery.
Ogunbanjo said he was worried that fines imposed by the regulatory authority on telecoms operators for KPIs test on network quality, do not get to reach the telecoms subscribers that suffer the loss of  everything.
FG’s Efforts
Worried by the slow pace of telecoms infrastructure rollout in the country, occasioned by high cost of Right of Ways (RoW) imposed by state governments, and the diverse levies imposed by government agencies, which is believed to be a major cause of poor service quality across networks, the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, last month, held a meeting with the Lagos State government at the government house in Lagos, and telecoms operators were in attendance. At that meeting, the Lagos State government agreed to reduce telecoms charges in the state, in order to allow for speedy rollout of telecoms infrastructure in the state.
ALTON’s Promise
Commending Governor Fashola for cutting down on telecoms levies and charges in the state, Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, told THISDAY that the reduction would definitely impact on telecoms service delivery in the state. Should other state governments emulate the Lagos Governor, then the entire country would experience improved service quality in the telecoms industry, he further said.
Now that operators have promised that service quality would improve in Lagos State, based on the reduction of RoW in the state, it will not be out of place if the NCC lobbies government to broker same meeting with the other 35 state governors, including the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and implore them to also reduce cost of RoW and telecoms charges in their respective states. If these are done and the operators are given enough time to rollout their networks at reduced government charges, the entire Nigerians including the writer of this piece, will hold the operators responsible, should poor service quality persists.
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