NCC fine ‘not enough’

TELECOMS

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Image: Bayo Banjo, President of the Nigeria Internet Group. By BiztechAfrica
Bayo Banjo, President of the Nigeria Internet Group

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

Pained by long years of poor telecoms service without respite, telephone subscribers in Nigeria have described the recent N1.17 billion fine slammed on the four global system for mobile (GSM) communications companies in the country as a slap on the wrist.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) last weekend slammed the operators with a N1.17 billion fine for persistently delivering poor service quality to the near 100 million active subscribers in the country.

But consumers say the operators will only need to manipulate their systems and pass the cost on to the subscribers.

A subscriber, who wishes to be identified simply as Esther, a civil servant, said she was not excited by the sanction, which she said was too simplistic. According to her, she has bought recharge cards on several occasions, loaded same only for her to try to make calls which failed and for which the entire ‘credit’ is wiped out.

“Nigeria is a funny country. I use three of the four GSM lines and from my experience, none is better than the other. It is because of this poor service quality that I was compelled to buy three lines and three phones. On several occasions, I have recharged my phone with N1000 and attempted to make calls only to discover that it has been wiped off,” she said.

According to her, if the operators have the technology to short change subscribers, won’t they deploy the same technology to pass the fine to us, the voiceless subscribers?

Richard Adeyeye is another exasperated subscriber who feels a sanction should have been imposed that that substantially affects the finances of the operators.

“Look, you can only imagine how much profit goes into the pockets of these operators every second a call is made. Imagine an operator with 50 million subscribers. If he decides to deduct N10 on each of its subscribers, you know how much that translates to. So, these people are like kalo-kalo (casino) operators. You just drop your money by way of buying recharge cards and there it ends,” he told Biztechafrica.com in an interview in Lagos, adding that the essence of punishment is in the main, to serve as a deterrent to others.

According to him, in this case, the punishment is not harsh enough to serve as deterrent.

Payback time

Reacting to the development, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS) commended the NCC, arguing that for once, the nation is seeing a regulator that is not unjustifiably imposing discriminatory punishment on erring operators.

NATCOMS may insist that, instead of the fine being paid into the coffers of the federal government, it be paid as compensation to all the subscribers who were the victims of the oppression of the operators.

National president of the body, Deolu Ogunbanjo, who disclosed this in Lagos, insisted that it is the subscribers that bore the brunt of the poor services rendered by the operators.

According to him, like it was done under the leadership of Ernest Ndukwe who ordered two of the three operators then to give every subscriber on its network, airtime worth N175 each, the NCC should toe the same line and reward the subscribers who are the worst hit by the poor services of the GSM operators.

He said that NCC, as the telecoms regulator, had the responsibility to ensure that users of the telecoms services were not exploited. Ogunbanjo said that the fine imposed on operators would let them know that Nigerians could no longer tolerate poor services.

Said the NATCOMS president: "The fine must be passed on to subscribers according to their volume of calls and usage of the Internet.  The regulator should rather compel operators that were fined to provide free services to compensate for their regular poor services. When the BlackBerry service messed up for about four days last year, the operator did not wait for NCC to slam them.

"The BlackBerry company had the decency to extend everybody’s subscription for about four days as compensation, but our own GSM operators are not like that. Telecoms operators should be made to provide free services for one week without service interruption," he said in a telephone interview with Biztechafrica.com.

‘Heads should roll’

For Bayo Banjo, president of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), the only language the operators will understand is outright sacking of their CEOs. He is not impressed about the fine, which he says is meaningless considering the financial muscle of the operators and their capacity to call the bluff of the regulator.

“What if they refused to pay the fine? Nothing will happen. It is all bullsh*t. They will go through the back door, negotiate and that will be the end of it. But the only thing the regulator can do is sacking the CEOs and CTOs of the operators. If this is done, anybody that is taking over from them will not want to lose his job and the fat perks attached to the office,” he said.

Banjo says the fine is too small to make any appreciable impact on the operators. He said the total fine is less than what one of the operators spends on an advertising campaign. "That money does not mean anything to them. If you know what these operators vote to run advert, you will discover that this fine is nothing," he told Biztechafrica.com in a phone interview in Lagos.

According to Banjo, who is the CEO of Disc Communications Limited and former vice president of Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), it is the refusal of the operators to do what is right and the seemingly weak regulatory regime that is responsible for the mess.

“In the developed countries of the world, the regulator does not sit by and allow people to mess up with things that serve the public. If the people managing it are not getting it right, the government steps in and enthrone responsibility,” he added.

Daily frustration

In Nigeria, network congestion is the order of the day. This has led to poor reception, dropped calls, cross-talks, poor voice signal as well as blocking of interconnect routes between networks.

With a population of 150 million, the country has fewer than 16,000 base transmission stations (BTS) while the UK, with about 45 million people there are about 65,000 BTS.

At the end of every year, all the major operators declare mega profits usually driven by Nigeria's operation but never care a hoot to putting back substantial part of this profit to expanding the network to make it resilient through embarking on massive capacity improvement especially in the radio access networks in order to reduce network congestion, while optimizing existing network infrastructure.

“What they do to compound the problem of service quality is promo. This unwittingly congests the fragile network. For instance, is there any justification for the N1 billion reward they are all neck-deep in competition to reward people who register their SIMs?

It is all aimed at grabbing subscribers through enticing them. I know a brother who saw people being rewarded with N10 million for only registering old SIM and that made him to go and buy a new SIM of that operator in the hope that he would win. That is the effect on the network. The regulator knew all these but waited till this long time to act,” a subscriber said.

Towards the end of last year, the Director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity, Dr. Balarabe Sani, said the monthly data capture and analysis of the network had shown that network congestion had continued to increase.

“On most of the networks, there are too many dropped calls, poor network availability, poor service accessibility and poor voice quality while one way or two way lack of audio in several connections abound,” he said.

Flawed systems

According to him, the analysis showed that several Base Station Controllers, BSCs, were congested in terms of Radio Traffic Channels, RTCH, and Stand Alone Dedicated Control Channels, SDCCH. An official said where operators are expected to keep this indices below 0.1 per cent, the figure stood at about 2.5 per cent, suggesting a very worrisome dimension.

Many weak and dead signal zones in major cities were also discovered through QoS Drive Test monitoring exercise carried out by the NCC, which is attributable to lack of network optimization and improper radio network planning.

This compelled the regulator to direct the operator to suspend the use of bulk short messaging service, SMS, for all kinds of campaigns and suspension of all promotions except where adequate capacity were provided on the network to carry the volume of traffic generated from such activity.

Telco headaches

On the other hand, operators have consistently blamed the poor service quality on vandalism, theft of generators at BTS, cost of diesel, declining power of the naira and general dearth of infrastructure for the problem.

Akinwale Goodluck, corporate services executive at MTN Nigeria, enjoined the NCC to display understanding with the operators in the face of these multitude of challenges. Goodluck who is also the vice chairman of Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), said operating environment is also responsible for the challenges associated with services.

Engr. Titi omo-Ettu, CEO of Telecoms Answers, seems to be in accord with him. Omo-Ettu who is immediate past president of ATCON, said: “telephone operators use 25 million litres of diesel monthly to fuel 20,000 generators located at over 15,000 cell sites in the country.

“At a current pump price of N153 per litre of diesel, operators will spend N3.82 billion to fuel their generators monthly and N45.9bn in 2012. 450 other telecom players will make even more expenditure on alternative power,” Omo Ettu posited at a stakeholders forum in Lagos.

Omo-Ettu promised legal action if the federal government failed to do something about power paralysis inhibiting business and economic activities in the country. “We shall go to court to press for damages if by 2013 December power supply does not improve,” he charged.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest crude oil producer with several trillions cubic feet of gas deposits struggles to generate 3000 megawatts (Mw) of electricity from its hydro and thermal plants which have combined capacity to do less than 6000Mw.

With a population officially put at 150 million people, it curious how 4000Mw will serve a country. Analysts say it is corruption that has brought the country to its knees with successive administrations allocating huge sums of money to power sector at the end of which no result is got.

MTN, Etisalat, Airtel and Globacom have been ordered to pay N1.17 billion as fines with MTN expected to pay N360 million, Etisalat N360 million, Airtel N270 million, and Globacom, N180 million, respectively. It is yet to be seen if this sanction will whip the operators into order.



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