The recent directive by the Nigerian Communications Commission that all telecoms operators must henceforth give a 14-day window to subscribers, after the expiration of their monthly data subscriptions, to exhaust their unused data bundle before rolling over, is a regulatory directive that would excite many Nigerians. Emma Okonji reports
There are myriads of complaints from telecoms subscribers that service providers do not give them enough time to exhaust their monthly data subscription plans before they are either disconnected or forced to roll over the excess data bundle to the next month after purchasing another monthly data plan. To address this concern, the Nigerian Communications Commission recently issued a directive to the telecoms operators.
‘Year of Telecoms Consumers’
NCC, the telecoms industry regulator, penultimate week, issued a directive that all telecoms operators must allow a 14-day window, after the expiration of the 30 days data plan, to enable subscribers completely use their current monthly data subscription plans, before rolling over the unused data to the next month after purchasing a new monthly data plan. The decision of NCC to address the ubiquitous complaint by subscribers is in line with its resolve to always protect the interest of telecoms consumers. The resolve followed the regulatory body’s declaration of 2017 as the year of telecoms consumers.
Although the directive may likely affect the revenue stream of telecoms operators, especially the smaller operators, they have no choice but to comply with the regulatory directive. This is more so as no service provider would want to violate the regulator’s directive, for fear of sanction.
Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, penultimate week, directed all telecoms operators in the country to henceforth give customers a 14-day grace period to exhaust their remaining data after the expiration of the 30 days validity period for monthly data subscriptions. The monthly data subscriptions of all the telecommunications operators in the country give customers a 30-day period to exhaust their subscriptions or rollover unused data by subscribing for another 30 days data before the expiration of the previous one.
Danbatta gave the directive in Minna, capital of Niger State, during a telecoms consumer forum organised by the NCC. He was represented at the event by Hellen Obi.
Danbatta advised the consumers to call NCC on the toll-free line, 622, if their complaints were not resolved by their network providers, assuring them that the commission will take up the matter and resolve it, where the operators failed to do so.
“NCC has mandated all network providers to give their subscribers 14 days of grace after the 30 days expiration of their data, if they still have data left and cannot recharge, to get their data rolled over,” Obi said.
According to Obi, “The commission, which is the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, declared year 2017 as the year of the telecoms consumer in recognition of the importance of the consumer to the phenomenal growth and development in the telecoms sector.
“The year of telecom consumer, which was formally launched by Danbatta, is in tandem with the 8-point agenda of the commission, aimed at protecting, educating, and empowering consumers towards ensuring sustainable growth and further development in the telecom sector.”
Obi said the consumers’ forum was organised around the country to educate consumers on their rights and privileges in the relationship with their service providers.
She revealed that the NCC had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Central Bank of Nigeria, which mandated the CBN to advise the banks on enlightenment of their customers on fake messages that often requested them to send their bank verification numbers or account details.
Looking at the implication of the NCC’s directive on data rollover and the 14 days window, Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, said the telecoms service providers had to comply with the directive, since it is a regulatory directive. Adebayo, however, raised some salient points, which in his views, must be addressed by the NCC to protect the telecoms operators from running at a loss, just the same way NCC is protecting telecoms consumers from what is perceived by many as the excesses of telecoms operators.
“Telecoms operators have no choice than to comply with the directive, but the bottom line is that NCC is protecting the consumers at the detriment of the service providers, in relation to the 14 days compulsory window for data rollover,” Adebayo said. “The smaller operators will definitely lose money in the process because they spend so much money to maintain their networks.”
He explained that the NCC needed to understand the large number of subscribers that would benefit from the directive, who usually have unused data at the end of the initial 30 days validity period of their data bundle subscriptions.
According to Adebayo, “Directives of this nature will underscore the importance of the data floor price that was suspended by NCC, following complaints from the same telecoms subscribers that the NCC is protecting. In protecting the telecoms consumers, NCC must also balance the situation by revisiting the suspended data floor price, which seeks to fix a new price cap for data services across networks.”
He said if NCC must enforce the 14 days window on data rollover, it should also consider the reintroduction of the suspended data floor price in order to cushion the effect of the loss of revenue that operators would face based on the directive.
Data Floor Price
Data price floor is one of the regulatory safeguards normally put in place by the telecommunications regulator to check anticompetitive practices, particularly, by the dominant operators. It is a minimum price on data services as stipulated by government or the regulator.
Giving reason why it was introduced in the first instance, Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said the introduction of price floor for data services in the country was to address market distortions, unhealthy price wars and value erosion that could threaten the concerns of the service providers.
NCC had on November 1, 2016 written to the mobile network operators on the determination of an interim price floor for data services after a stakeholder’s consultative meeting on October 19, 2016. As at November 1, 2016, the industry average for data tariff floor for dominant operators, including, MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, EMTS Limited (Etisalat), now 9mobile, and Airtel Nigeria Limited, was N0.53k/MB. But the interim price floor as introduced by NCC, which was to commence with effect from December 1, 2016, seeks to increase the industry average for data tariff from 53k/MB to 90k/MB.
But the smaller operators/new entrants, like Smile Communications, Spectranet, and ntel, charged different rates. Smile Communications charged N0.84k/MB, Spectranet charged N0.58k/MB and ntel charged N0.72k/MB.
Considering the initial rate of 45k/MB, which MTN charged, and the new rate of N90k/MB, as contained in the interim floor price for data services, which was supposed to take effect from December 1, 2016, MTN went ahead to inform its over 61 million subscribers that it would increase data tariff with effect from December 1, 2016. The information to MTN subscribers, which was sent via Short Message Service, otherwise known as text message, raised a lot of dust among subscribers across networks, who started calling on NCC and the operators to rescind the decision on data tariff hike.
Following the complaints from subscribers, NCC decided to suspend any further action in that direction till date.
Adebayo says if NCC must enforce the 14 days window on data rollover, it should also revisit the suspended data floor price, which seeks to increase data tariff.
Need to Protect Telecom Consumers
Protecting telecoms consumers has been the utmost priority of the regulator, little wonder NCC declared 2017 as the year of the telecoms consumers. The commission has vowed to protect the consumers.
While launching the year of telecoms consumers in Lagos a few months ago, Danbatta said consumers were the reason for the great feat attained in the telecoms industry since the inception of Global System for Mobile Communications in 2001. He said consumers had spent their hard earned monies to pay for telecoms services over the years and they are the reason why the operators are still in business.
Danbatta said he would do everything possible to protect the consumers, which, obviously, is behind the 14 days window for data rollover, among other incentives for telecoms subscribers.