ANALYSIS: Appraising NCC’s consumer-centric initiatives

ANALYSIS: Appraising NCC’s consumer-centric initiatives
Danbatta

With millions of Nigerians relying on telecommunications services for their day-to-day activities, many consumer-related issues are bound to recur. However, the telecoms regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has taken the bull by the horn through its various initiatives aimed at providing succour for the consumers.

As of July 2021, active subscriptions for mobile telephony in the country stood at 187.4 million according to data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC. Factoring in individuals with multiple SIMs, the mobile operators are believed to be having over at least, 100 million unique customers.

The increasing number of Nigerians being hooked onto the telecommunications system places more responsibilities on the service providers to ensure the satisfaction of the consumers and the delivery of value for their money. At the same time, satisfying over a hundred million customers seems an impossible task for the operators, hence, the telecom regulator has had to intervene on many occasions as consumer complaints increase on issues such as quality of service, data depletion, credit disappearance, among others.

The NCC, which prides itself as a consumer-centric regulator had, as a result of such issues, opened several channels for the subscribers to lodge their complaints directly to the Commission if the service providers fail to address their issue.

The NCC, which prides itself as a consumer-centric regulator had, as a result of such issues, opened several channels for the subscribers to lodge their complaints directly to the Commission if the service providers fail to address their issue. And this strategy has been yielding positive results.

Issues resolved

Reports of the consumer complaints recently released by the commission indicated that a total of 26,169 complaints were received and managed by the commission between January 2019 and April 2020. According to the report, 98 per cent of the total service-related complaints received from telecoms consumers within the 15 months were resolved to the satisfaction of the consumers.

“The complaints were received through all the commission’s official channels of communication. These include 24,481 complaints received through Commission’s Contact Centres; 1,007 complaints received through the NCC Consumer Portal; and 296 others received as written complaints submitted at NCC Head Office in Abuja and the Commission’s five zonal offices in Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Ibadan,” NCC added.

The commission said it also received complaints through its official email while 366 of the complaints were transmitted to the commission through its social media handles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and the specially-dedicated Twitter handle for consumer issues. Also, 19 complaints were referred to the commission during the period through the Twitter account of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.

Protecting the consumer

Commenting on the report, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof, Umar Danbatta, said: “The commission is pleased to find that consumers are increasingly accessing the numerous complaint channels instituted by the commission to resolve second level complaints brought to its attention.”

The EVC said the NCC has emplaced all the channels to enable consumers to escalate to the commission complaints earlier reported to their service providers that may not have been addressed promptly and/or satisfactorily.

“It is important to note that commission’s actions in this regard is in congruence with NCC’s mandate to protect and defend the rights of the consumer, and to give concrete expression to its faith in the consumer as the lifeblood of the telecom sector, and therefore deserving of priority attention as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003,” Danbatta said.

He emphasised the commission’s commitment to taking several steps, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, to continuously improve QoS both for voice and data services. According to him, such responsibility had become more imperative, given the outbreak of COVID-19 and the attendant necessities for containing the contagion, giving that telecom consumers, in their majority, had come to rely more on telecom services to cope with the restrictions to physical movement and close contacts.

Consumer-centric initiatives

Highlighting some of the initiatives of the commission geared towards the interest of the telecoms consumer, the EVC noted that in keeping with the global embrace of the digital public communication culture, and the reigning paradigm in corporate communications and complaints management, the commission, in 2015, set up an Online Media desk to handle media management aspects of its Website, being its major online media asset.

“The desk also set social media assets. From three social media handles (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) in 2015, NCC now operates five functional social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Through these channels, the commission receives feedback on service delivery and other issues raised by the consumers. These online and social media channels have also become Commission’s major channels of disseminating information geared towards protecting, informing and educating telecoms consumer and other industry stakeholders,” he said.

Also closely connected to the issue of consumer engagement and protection is the Quality of Service (QoS). The import of the commission’s commitment to improving the QoS finds expression as the second item on the 8-Point Agenda. The vision is to promote the availability of reliable, interoperable, rapidly-restorable critical ICT infrastructures that are supportive of all required services.

According to Danbatta, part of the strategy put in place to realise the vision was the inauguration of a high-level task force by the Commission to identify all the issues militating against the quality of service on the networks. Management of the Commission also strengthened measures for Quality of Service (QoS) regulation, through improved oversight/internal controls and facilitation of active infrastructure sharing amongst telecoms operators in ways that will encourage seamless adoption of next-generation technologies and remove all barriers to smooth operations.

Addressing QoS issue

Beyond the activities implemented during the declaration of the Year of the Consumer in 2017, Danbatta said the commission has continued to take several steps aimed at continuously improving quality of service (QoS) both for voice and data services. According to him, the NCC’s commitment to improving the QoS as an issue organically connected to the protection of the rights of the consumer, are being demonstrated through monthly engagement sessions with operators on QoS and quarterly QoS Industry Working Group meetings.

He said the commission was also engaging with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) to align right of way (RoW) charges appropriately in keeping with the resolution of the National Economic Council. This is to bolster the widespread rollout of telecom infrastructure.

Other initiatives, according to Danbatta included engagement with individual governors to reduce and eliminate the incidences of site shutdown by state government agencies. Instituting benchmarking drive test across the country to measure the performance of each operator in a given area and identify coverage gaps to bridge them; establishing new QoS measurement mechanisms for assessing the QoS performance of operators to ensure measured performance more closely aligns with subscriber experiences across all states of the federation, and deployment of QoS measurement systems at the commission to enable near real-time assessment of QoS across the country right from the Commission’s Head Office.

DND as a succour

The EVC further stated that one of the major interventions of the NCC instituted in the interest of the telecom consumer was the introduction of the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 ShortCode. This was created by the commission to deal with the issue of unsolicited messages. The 2442 is dedicated to enable telecom consumers to manage unsolicited messages they receive on their devices.

While the commission could be seen to have embarked on several initiatives towards addressing consumer issues in the telecoms sector, the emergence of new technologies like the impending 5G, IoT, etc. are bound to raise fresh consumer issues.

“Additionally, the 622 toll-free Number is an interventional action of the commission. The number was created and dedicated by the Commission as a second-level complaint management mechanism, which gives consumers the opportunities to escalate to the commission, complaints they had registered with their service providers but which may not have been satisfactorily resolved.

“The commission’s extant Consumer Outreach Programmes – Telecoms Consumer Parliament (TCP), Consumer Outreach Programme (COP), Consumer Town Hall Meetings (CTM) – were sustained with renewed vigour, additional outreach programmes such as the Elite Enlightenment Campaign, EEC, Consumer Conversation and Campus Conversation were added to ensure that the telecom consumer was reached with appropriate and timely messages he or she requires to make informed decisions,” he said.

Danbatta added that the commission had also issued a number of directions to service providers in order to ensure consumers are not ripped off. “One of such is the Direction to Service Providers on Data Roll-Over, which enables consumers to roll over unused data for a period, ranging from 1 day to 7 days, depending on the data plan. We also issued a Direction to Service Providers on forceful subscription of data services and value-added services (VAS), directing service providers to desist from forceful/automatic renewal of data services without prior consent of their subscribers,” he said.

Conclusion

While the commission could be seen to have embarked on several initiatives towards addressing consumer issues in the telecoms sector, the emergence of new technologies like the impending 5G, IoT, etc. are bound to raise fresh consumer issues. The telecoms regulator must, therefore, in its proactive stance, put mechanisms in place to forestall future challenges.