As NCC Investigates Telcos Over Subscriber Data Depletion

February 16, 2021
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CHIMA AKWAJA, looks at the steps being taken by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to nip in the bud the fast data depletion and wrongful deduction of credits from subscribers’ phones by telecom operators.

In recent months, Nigerian telecommunications consumers have raised the alarm at the speed at which their data were being depleted and wrong deductions of consumers’ credit, laying the blame at the feet of mobile network operators (MNOs). This fast data depletion makes it difficult for subscribers to make adequate use of their data purchased before it is exhausted.

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To address this, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecom regulator has instituted a forensic audit to get to the bottom of why consumers are experiencing data depletion and the possibility of compensating them for wrong deductions, which may arise from short message service (SMS).

According to the executive vice chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, “We have instituted and we have insisted that despite the fall in data price, that forensic audit must go on and must be concluded and the outcome communicated to the CEOs of telecom companies.”

While appealing to Nigerians to wait for the outcome of the ongoing forensic audit, Danbatta said operators will be made to comply with whatever directions are given after the investigation with a view to ensuring maximum protection for telecom consumers. About 207 million subscriber lines have seen data prices go down by about 50 per cent in the last one year, but the data have been taken away through high data depletion.

According to an NCC benchmark, cost of one gigabyte of data has come down to about N500, which is more than 50 per cent at the beginning of 2020. Its target is to see that one gigabit of data cost N390 by year 2025. “It is not just bringing the cost of data down that matters, the NCC needs to take a strong regulatory action to ensure that subscribers to data services are not shortchanged.

‘So, we have instituted forensic audit of data, in the same way we conducted audit on the cost of SMS. The audit on Airtel showed that, subscribers were been unlawfully surcharged to the tune of about N100 million. So, as we are talking Airtel is making refunds to subscribers. They admitted there was a mistake, and they are working on it,” said Danbatta.

He noted that NCC is extending the audit on SMS from Airtel to other mobile network operators. ‘We are administering the audit on data. So, we believe that by the time this audit is completed, perhaps that will give us comprehensive view of what is happening in the data sub-sector. I am looking up to the time I will be able to address Nigerians that data prices and depletion challenges have been resolved,” added Danbatta.

He, however, noted that the Commission has developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on data depletion, which are designed to inform consumers on activities that may result in faster depletion of their data as well as enlighten them on measures to mitigate such. The FAQs are accessible from the Commission’s website.

The chairman, of Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo said 4G connection will be faster and offer more coverage than a 3G. As more and more users are constantly using their gadgets to connect to the Internet and stay online for very long periods of time, it becomes increasingly important to improve the quality of that service which underpins everyday life, he added.

On his part, the president of Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Ikechukwu Nnamani said the forensic audit on data is a welcome development noting that ATCON is already, “Engaging with the various regulatory and government agencies to ensure there is enabling environment for the efficient and cost effective delivery of telecoms and ICT services in the country to the subscribers at affordable rates while not compromising on the quality of service.”

Over the years, the NCC has given boost to consumer protection empowerment through sustained awareness creation and education on consumer rights and privileges. The Commission has intensified its compliance monitoring exercises with the acquisition of efficient tools and capacities to bring sanity in the industry all in a bid to improve the quality of consumer experience.

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