The recent N1.17 billion sledge hammer on the four major mobile operators in the country for allegedly failing in their key performance indicators has thrown up a varied assortment of issues ranging from the mundane to the call by hitherto unknown group for the probe of subsidy regime in the industry, Nigeria CommunicationsWeek can now report.
As the opinion on the fines swung left and right, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), at the weekend descended harder on the operators with additional N2.5 million daily fines each on the telcos for their continued failure to pay up their earlier sanctions.
NCC said it was going ahead with the sanction and the additional daily fines for default on the operators after the telcos failed to put up convincing case for their inabilities to provide quality of service to Nigerians.
But in a twist, Telecommunications Customers Association (TeCA), a hitherto unheard of group, has called on the national assembly to probe subsidies in the telecom sector.
Elsewhere, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (Natcomms), an organized consumer advocacy group, said that the fines should be paid to subscribers as they are the ones suffering from the poor quality of service.
In its reaction, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) said the fine is a waste of time as the money imposed as sanctions could be realized by operators in a matter of minutes.
Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (Alton), the body responsible for all telecommunications companies and those providing subsidiary services to telecommunications service providers in Nigeria, said that the NCC’s sanction came as a surprise to it.
Alton, said that the regulator was yet to address various challenges militating against the progress of the sector.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that the matter came to a head after the NCC fined the four mobile operators N1.17 billion for poor quality of service.
MTN Nigeria and Etisalat were fined N360 million each while Airtel Nigeria and Glo Mobile were asked to pay N270 million and N180 million respectively.
As the NCC stuck to their guns, the operators pleaded for understanding but after a meeting failed to find a way out between them, the apex regulatory body invoked additional N2.5 million daily fines for default on the telcos.
NCC also said that it may withhold regulatory services to the affected operators including issuance of new numbers or entertaining any requests from them.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that the skirmish between the regulator and the operators is drawing commentaries from different quarters.
Kennet Obinwa and Rasheed Umar, president and secretary respectively of TeCA last week took paid advertorials in major newspapers titled: ‘Pay Customers, Not NCC’ petitioned the NCC to direct GSM companies to refund customers their money within the next five days at the end of which it will approach the courts for the enforcement of its rights.
The group asked “what has NCC lost that it should demand our money should be paid to it? Does NCC have a way of giving us the money or do they want to pay it into Nigeria’s coffers for politicians to steal? NCC is one of the richest government agencies in Nigeria. NCC collects annual operating levy from all telecommunications service providers and this runs into billions every year; what are they doing with it apart from paying themselves fat salaries and allowances?,”
Also, Bayo Banjo, president of Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) said the fine is a waste of time as the money imposed as sanctions could be realized by operators in a matter of minutes.
“If NCC must impose fines, it must be vested with similar powers as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to punish any erring operator. The NCC should allow the operators keep the money and invest it in stolen generators and other infrastructure to improve quality of service.”
Deolu Okubanjo, national president, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (Natcomms), told Nigeria CommunicationsWeek that the fines should be paid to subscribers as they are the ones suffering from the poor quality of service and sees no reason operators should pay the fines to NCC.
“We held a national meeting and concluded that subscribers should be compensated. Operators should compensate subscribers and not government as the NCC represents the government because we are being shortchanged,” said Okubanjo who is widely known in the telecom sector.
Okubanjo however called on mobile operators’ umbrella body, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria to sort out the issues with NCC to avoid escalation.
But Alton said that the NCC’s sanction came as a surprise to it, stressing that the regulator was yet to address various challenges mitigating against the progress of the sector.
Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the group, bemoaned the situation, adding that the basis for the fine did not reflect the problems the sector was facing. He stated that the commission acted against the fact.
The NCC had set up the following KPIs for the operators to meet, 98 per cent Call Setup Success Rate (CSSR), two per cent Call Drop Rate (CDR), 98 per cent HoSR, One per cent Standalone Dedicated Control Channel (SDCCH), 96 per cent Call Completion Rate (CCR) and two per cent Traffic Congestion ratings (TCH CoNG), but according to the regulator, none of the operators met its target within the period of March and April under review.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that the affected operators, times without number, had identified poor infrastructure, poor power supply, vandalism and capacity crunch, among others, as being responsible for their poor service delivery in the country.
NCC on its part said these challenges are not new to the Commission adding the issue of Quality of Service (QoS) has been in discussion for six years until finally January this year the QoS guidelines were gazetted; and then there was need for the Commission to apply sanctions to the service providers that did not meet the key performance indicators.
The commission was invoking the provisions in the laws establishing it which requires operators to meet with the minimum standard of quality of service including the key performance indicators, (KPIs) set for them.
On the suggestions that the fines be paid to the subscribers, Tony Ojobo, public affairs director at NCC said that paying to the subscribers “are not only trite but will not serve as deterrent. Our rough calculations showed that sharing the N1.17 billion to 99 million active subscribers in the network, would amount to an average of no more than N10 per subscriber.”
He said that “this suggestion is tantamount to supporting the operators to continue to provide poor quality of service as it would be easier for operators to credit subscribers with this amount than pay penalties for poor services rendered.
Ojobo reasoned that acceding to the TeCA’s demands was capable of derailing the regulatory processes set in place by the commission to achieve acceptable quality of service in the networks within the foreseeable future.
The NCC spokesman said that that prior to the vexatious penalty, the telcos had promised improved services to customer by March 2012 but that did not materialize.
“There was a meeting between the service providers and the Commission where they had made commitments that by March this year we were going to see noticeable improvements in the Quality of service offered; but of course as at March we still didn’t see any noticeable improvement rather we observed very, very, very poor Quality of service on all the networks,” he stated.
Emeka Oparah, vice president, corporate communications at Airtel Nigeria had stated a forthnight ago in a facebook posting that the regulator ought to pay annual subvention to the telcos rather than fine them considering the hazards they undertake in providing service to Nigeria.
“I think its time the operators took off the gloves and engage both NCC and NASS (National Assembly – Nigerian parliament). Let’s talk about QoS. Has anybody asked what’s responsible for the poor QoS? Is it unwillingness by the operators, who actually stand to gain when the network is good? Or some people are shirking their responsibilities and only playing to the gallery? Let’s take Abuja for example: there (is) a law which prevents operators from building base stations in the FCT and so since 2005 operators haven’t gotten approval to build new sites. How can QoS be improved? And both NASS and NCC are based in Abuja!!! At NASS in Asokoro, (Abuja suburb) coverage is atrocious…has anybody asked why? Operators cannot install inbuilding solutions there for ‘security reasons.’ Operators pay NCC 2.5 per cent of their annual revenue as operationg levy fee…what has NCC done with the over $2 Billion it has collected in the past 11 years,” wrote Oparah.