From January 1, 2014, service providers in the telecommunications sector that do not meet previously agreed targets on Quality of Services indicators will be prevented from further expansion of their subscribers’ base.
The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, gave the warning at a joint press conference addressed in Lagos by the ministry, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), on the quality of service of network operators.
She also said the ministry, in conjunction with the CPC and other relevant agencies of government, has commenced a working relationship that would make it possible for government to prevent incessant abuse of consumer rights by the industry operators.
Johnson admitted that the issue of poor service has been a persistent one over a number of years and that it appeared to have worsened in the last twelve months, despite the fact that the ministry has been working hard to provide an enabling environment for the deployment of ICT infrastructure, especially in the area of base stations and fibre optic cable.
She pointed out that the collaboration with CPC and NCC to protect subscribers, who daily bear the brunt of QoS, will deliver appropriate customer redress by telecoms subscribers in the area of rebate on airtime, usage irregularities, inaccurate billing and opportunities to opt out of unsolicited SMS messages.
Other areas she mentioned are: poor network service delivery that makes it impossible for consumers to receive calls, lack of sustainability of calls, deceptive broadband speed adverts by some service providers and failure of service delivery without compensation to consumers.
The minister also identified some challenges being put forward by the service providers and reeled out various attempts that have since been made to address the problems.
Among other things, she pointed out that the right of way on federal highways has been reduced by 90 per cent and that the ministry has negotiated an agreement with all state governments to reduce right of way on state highways and also reduce charges on infrastructure.
She said: “In Lagos State, we reached a landmark agreement that has reduced right of way by 85 per cent and charges on infrastructure by 45 per cent. In Ekiti, Cross Rivers and Lagos, state governments are partnering telecommunications companies to build metro fibre by giving outright waivers on right of way cost in exchange for a share of revenue as the infrastructure is put into use.”
On vandalisation of infrastructure, the minister made reference to the Federal Executive Council’s approval of the new bill on cyber crime, which she said, will have severe penalties for the wanton destruction of ICT infrastructure.
In her contribution at the conference, the DG of the CPC, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, stated that the challenge of doing business in Nigeria is the usual justification for these violations by service providers. She however pointed out that as long as her council is concerned and as long as a business is in operation, and consumers pay for the service, she would ensure that consumers get value for their money.
The DG added that under the act that established the council, CPC has the power to sanction, prosecute and compel any product or service provider, to answer a lawful inquiry, disobedience of which, she said, are all criminalised.
Speaking further on the legal implication of abusing consumers, Atoki said operators risk prosecution and jail terms of up to five years if investigations currently ongoing reveal they have deliberately short-changed Nigerians in poor service delivery.
“CPC can make orders in the interest and protection of consumers and disobedience is also criminalised by law. While NCC can impose fines on an offending operator, CPC can in addition commit such recalcitrant offenders to jail terms for contravening any consumer protection enactment,” she said.