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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently played host to the first Conference of African Telecoms Regulators on Consumer Affairs, tagged CATCO 2013, where issues on consumer protection were extensively deliberated.
Telecoms regulators from across Africa who gathered in Lagos for the two-day conference, agreed to further protect the interests of telecoms subscribers through better regulation.
In a keynote address by the Executive Commissioner in charge of Stakeholders Management at NCC, Dr. Okechukwu Itanyi, he listed some of the regulatory challenges in Africa, and also highlighted the potentials or growth in the African telecoms sector.
According to him, there were a number of regulatory risks that were encountered from time to time in the process of regulating the telecoms sector, but explained that the mindset in dealing with the risks, had always been to strike a balance among various and sometimes conflicting interests of affected stakeholders.
He listed some of the challenges to include distribution of bandwidth resources, allocation of scarce resources, increasing collaboration with other regulatory agencies, dispute resolution, rapid change in technology, and universal access obligation among others.
In the area of collaboration, Itanyi said the NCC was already working with other regulatory bodies in Nigeria to ensure that standards and quality of experience in the use of telecommunications devices are high, but lamented that often times, the task demands extra resources.
He pointed out that the expectation of the NCC is to fulfill universal access obligation through facilitating service provisioning to both the unserved and underserved. "Given the size of the country, NCC is constantly searching and implementing best practices, which will help it to achieve its set goal," Itanyi said.
He however said, “There is huge growth opportunity in the telecoms sector, through the broadband deployment,” which he said, remained the singular most critical area of growth in the telecoms sector.
Telecoms regulators from South Africa, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cameroun, Liberia, Rwanda, Benin Republic, Malawi, Angola, Sudan, Uganda, among other African countries, identified the issue of multiple taxation imposed by governments in their various countries as a major challenge in the telecoms industry.
According to them, the challenge on multiple taxation where telecoms operators are compelled to pay all manners of fees and levies, is adversely affecting service quality since operators were denied fast network rollout until all imposed levies and fees were paid.
Other issues raised by subscribers present at the conference were persistent release of unsolicited text messages by the operators to their subscribers in the name of telecoms promos, as well as indiscriminate digging and defacing of roads by the telecoms operators, while laying their broadband fibre optic cables.
The subscribers called for immediate end of such promo text messages, which they said were irritating. They also advised telecoms operators to find other means of laying their fibre cables, without destroying already built roads.
Responding, Director, Regulatory Affairs at MTN, Oyetunde Oyeronke, who was part of those that directed one of the sessions of the conference, said the issue of road digging was being addressed.
She called on state and federal governments to always make telecoms ducts available when constructing new roads, to enable telecoms operators share infrastructure through the ducts. On the issue of unsolicited promo test messages, Oyeronke said most of the text messages do not come from the operators, insisting that they come from people who are out to defraud subscribers.
The conference came to a conclusion that consumers need stronger voice and collaboration to stay protected always.