*It enhances business operations, widens telecoms’ pace
*No, services remain poor, consumers short-changed
*Operators blame challenging business environment
Today, August 18, 2017, the Global Satellite for Mobile Telecommunications, (GSM) will be 16 years old in the country.
The entry of the telecom system in August 2001 was described as a revolution of some sort, impacting the telecom space positively.
Before the deregulation of the sector, the defunct Nigerian Telecommunication Limited, NITEL, which monopolised the lucrative industry, was burdened by inefficiency, red-tape and corruption.
This situation affected businesses, homes, offices such that Nigerians called for its total scrapping or replacement for a more efficient and profit-oriented system.
Daily Times investigations revealed that, following the deregulation of the telecommunication industry by the then Military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, retd, players like MTN, Econet,now Airtel, and later, Globacom, were registered by the regulatory body, the Nigerian Communication Commission to operate business in the sector.However, Etisalat, now 9Mobile, became a later entrant.
Indeed, since GSM made its debut in Nigeria 16 years ago through the historic Digital Mobile Licensing round, which came at the heels of telecoms deregulation in Nigeria, culminating in the auction which commenced on January 17 and ended on January 19, 2001, consumers and other stakeholders have expressed divergent views about its rol and contributions to the economy.
They say as the licensing regime ended on January 19, 2001, it has since changed the face of the telecoms’ landscape in Africa and made Nigeria the haven for telecommunications’ investors globally.
The liberalisation of the Nigerian telecommunications sector almost two decades ago, opened up the sector to local and foreign direct investment (FDI) estimated at over $68 billion as at November 2016.
According to the Immediate past Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr, Eugene Juwah, “Over $32 billion investment was recorded in the sector as at June 2014 from $50 million in year 2001. The investment stood at $18 billion in 2010 and $25 billion in 2012.”
Investigations have shown that it has created approximately 2.5 million jobs; impact reaches across all industries and holds the potential to modernise multinationals, SMEs and their supply chains; contributed 9.8 per cent to Gross Domestic Product, GDP.
Also, further investigations by the Daily Times indicated that, subscribers’ base of the country, which, from the paltry 450, 000 connected lines in 2001, has taken some quantum leaps such that the total number of subscribers increased rapidly over the past decade.
For example, at the end of 2005, there were 19,519,154 subscribers, but by the end of 2016, there were 154,529,780, which is equivalent to an increase of 12,273,693 every year.
In March 2017, the end of the first quarter, there were 152,467,198 subscribers, which represents a quarterly decline of 1.33 per cent.
Investigations also showed that the problem of perennial low quality of service in the sector actually puts a clog in the wheel of progress of the sector and slowed down the pace of growth, while dropped calls, poor voice clarity, unsolicited text messages, unwanted and nauseating telemarketing and locked-messages infringe on subscribers’ right of privacy.
However, the industry, through the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), subsidy-based backbone transmission is making it possible for more people to have access to telephone services thus covering many hitherto unserved and underserved in all the 774 local government areas across the country, using targeted subsidies.
These metrics contributed immensely in the International Telecommunication Union’s, (ITU) rating of the country as the fastest growing telecommunications market for five consecutive years.
Other areas of positive impact of the sector in 16 years includes the areas of service tariff, cost of owning communication devices and cost of acquiring telephone line as SIM cards are almost given pro bono by telecoms networks today, whereas, 16 years ago, Nigerians were paying between N25, 000 and N20, 000 to acquire a SIM card with only net-worth individuals being able to own telephone lines.
The NCC introduced the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) whereby subscribers are at liberty to navigate across networks without losing their SIM number.
Commenting on the telecom sector, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said the telecoms sector has performed well as an enabler of most of the ICT-driven activities that have brought about efficiency in the country.
“Today, we bank with ease, we do online cash transfers, we use Automated Teller Machines (ATM), mobile money operators, e-wallet in agriculture, telemedicine, among others, but we forget that all of these activities, in addition to their traditional duty of providing voice and internet service, run on the networks of telecoms companies. Yet, cashless transactions are on the rise every day. “So, rather than criticize the sector for its little shortcomings, we should commend the players for helping the country to manage all these loads. I can imagine what will happen if telecoms companies decide not to carry any traffic (voice and data) in a day the way we witness it in the oil sector, where companies suddenly stop petrol distribution, thereby creating scarcity,” Adebayo emphasized.
The launch of the Nigerian Telecoms Consumers’ Year, 2017, by the regulatory agency, the NCC, has given a fillip to telecom subscribers in the country.
According to the executive vice chairman of the NCC, Prof. Garba Danbatta, “2017 is dedicated to the Nigerian telecom consumer following a management decision that compels the NCC to ensure that the consumer enjoys a customer experience that is enhanced and consistent in time and quality.
The good news is that the Nigerian Telecom Consumer Year project has begun to yield the desired results. It is encouraging that barely two months after the national campaign was flagged off, there have been progress report in the activation of the ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ short code using designated 2442 facility. More than one million telecom consumers activated the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb code since the launch of this exercise two months ago, while more subscribers reported their unresolved complaints using the NCC’s 622 toll-lines in the same period.
The Consumer Affairs Bureau is one of the key departments of the Nigerian Communications Commission, created in September 2001 by the Commission through the provision of Chapter VII of Nigerian Communications Act (NCA 2003), in particular, Part I of the chapter which deals with Consumer Protection and Quality of Service. Consumers are now been treated like kings due to the intervention, education on consumer’s right through the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP), Consumer Outreach Programme (COP), Consumer Town Hall Meeting (CTM).
GSM has indeed contributed positively in boosting economic activities in Nigeria, improved the quality of living of Nigerians, who now enjoy services like mobile TV, POS (electronic payment), affordable internet services, mobile tracking services, cheaper international calls, internet banking, and mobile banking.
GSM has made internet more affordable and accessible than it has ever been, hence giving people a voice on the internet, while millions of Nigerians now access the internet via their GSM phones or a GSM enabled device to communicate on Facebook, Yahoo, GMail, Twitter, Instagram and Google.
GSM has empowered thousands of Nigerians who make money on the internet, while some engage in fraud but thousands of Nigerians make honest living on the internet as web publishers, bloggers, apps developers, internet security consultants, social media consultants, and online marketing consultants.
Justus Adejumoh, a subscriber in many networks told Daily Times that “Since inception I think GSM has really helped the economy, sharpened our way of life, the way we see things, our interaction with the outside world and even the areas you think cannot be discovered like villages and all that have come to the lime light. Through this very telcos all these areas have been discovered. The telcos, even though it may not be the real ICT every other sector of the economy have been thriving on it.”
He said,”As we stand today if you want to locate your village it’s still through ICT. You can do that through Google map. You will discover that the Over The Top (OTT) elements cannot also survive on their own in isolation.
They need the telcos to make use of the drive that is why you have the like of the What Sapp, Viber, messenger and all the rest. Without the telcos backing them up, they cannot operate on their own. Beyond that you discover that the employment trend has been triggered because of the telcos. Now you have different kinds of phones and all that.
“Recently Nokia made a disclosure that in Computer Village alone over one billion handsets were sold there in the last 10 years. Then think of Huawei , Tecno and others. Then you will know about the people that have been empowered directly or indirectly. Government has also been benefiting from them in term of GDP, which is about 9.8 per cent which is very significant after oil.
“To me the future is even brighter from what they have achieved, consider even in the competition that is ranging. The sector has empowered a lot of people, relationships established and by and large we can say the telcos have opened the verge of opportunities for people to do any other thing they want to do in life.
“Although, the sector has a limiting aspect in the area of education by the way it has whittled down the level of education especially the social media which deal majorly with the OTT. There has been in this regard a misappropriation of priorities especially by some youths who can do and buy phone worth N50, 000 to N70, 000, but they don’t have a lap top where they could do their research and other works.
“It has also caused some moral regeneration to some extent. In Zimbabwe the females will tell males just buy me a recharge card and sleep with me. In Nigeria the same is trending as the boys who establishes relationship are asked to buy a handset the boys have not used before or afford. It has even made stealing to thrive both factual and in reality.
“Now with the handset someone who is a scammer can be in the comfort of his home and pose as a very beautiful lady to commit fraud.”
However, experts in the industry have advocated for reform and new policy directions for the industry due to the weak Naira that has made the importation of much needed telecom equipment into the country difficult, and the upgrading of towers and service capacity expansion too expensive to conduct on a large scale.
However, another subscriber, Miss Joan Odeh decried the poor services provided by the payers. She said, “We suffer a lot of dropcalls, deductions and sometimes over billing by all the operators.”
On several occasions, GSM players have risen in stout defense of their business, saying that they are face with challenges, such as, infrastructure, theft of cables, power, multiple taxation, etc, all which they attributed to poor operating environment in the country.
But, Engineer Gbenga Adeabyo, chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications of Nigeria (ALTON), cited the Abuja masterplan as not giving room for deployment of telecommunications base stations, adding that the situation is capable of impacting signal quality, increase in incidences of dropped calls, and overall customer service quality decline.
On his part, Mr. Olusola Teniola, president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), stated that “A drastic change is required in the manner the industry is regulated by NCC and as the Chief Justice of Nigeria recently noted, the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 is now outdated and needs immediate review to encompass latest regulatory thinking on matters that properly addresses the data centric world that we find ourselves in and propagates a converged regulatory environment focused on latest technological themes and not just on how voice calls are meant to be regulated”.
He lamented that consumers continue compound matters for operators as they move away from legacy voice services and are switching to data bundle packs, which allows them use over the top (OTT) service providers such as WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook to make phone calls economically over broadband connectivity notwithstanding the often poor quality of these services and the resultant bleeding the revenue base of operators.
Teniola suggested that the enabling environment is what the industry needs to thrive under any government in power, adding that this current administration is attempting to ensure that this environment is put in place to allow the private sector to contribute the innovative solutions and economic growth that will allow the citizens of the country to benefit from ICT growth.
NCC recently unfolded a mandatory Corporate Code of Governance for Telcos that will do well to promote accountability, responsibility, equity, fairness and ethical conducts at the level of the operators.
The Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management, NCC, Mr. Sunday Dare, said, “Section 11 deals with financial accountability, whistle blowing, and internal audit processes. So, the regulator as it now can go in and look at the books.
“You have an early warning system and the moment we see that a particular telco is exhibiting signs of financial recklessness or irresponsibility; we can go to the Board to say you got to do something deliberate under the NCC 2003 Acts. We can also call the board to order and we can also withdraw the license once we see that the value chain is affected or the subscribers are affected.”