Five weeks after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) imposed an indefinite ban on all GSM operators from running consumer promotions and lotteries on their networks, an increasing number of phone users are lamenting their ordeal while also querying the wisdom in the action. Their argument is that consumers are the real losers as they no longer enjoy freebies from telecom operators while the ban has not brought about any noticeable improvement in the quality of service.
Another argument is that the blanket ban is unfair as the NCC had just conducted yet another quality of service check on the operators in line with its mandate which empowers the regulatory agency to ensure that the licensees meet required standards from time-to-time. “The outcome of the survey did not seem to have influenced the decision of the NCC in deciding on a blanket ban on promotions and lotteries which affected all operators, irrespective of their performance as discovered by NCC itself,” said Moses Adigun, a consumer rights activist.
Between July and September this year, which falls within the period the consumer promotions were heavy on the various networks, the NCC conducted what it called a Nationwide Benchmark Drive Test on the four major operators – MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat. It was the first such test and it concentrated on Call Completion Rate, which encompasses the major network KPI (call drop and congestion). The service providers were ranked in Lagos and the six geo-political zones of South-West, South-East, South-South, North-Central, North-East and North-West. The survey showed that some operators indeed have more than enough capacity to absorb any increase in patronage resulting from their promotional activities.
According to the drive test report, the North-Central zone produced the highest rating for all the operators, except Glo. In this region, Etisalat recorded 94 per cent, while Airtel followed closely with 92 per cent. MTN scored 84 per cent and Glo had 78 per cent.
Lagos followed in ranking. Here, Etisalat had 92 per cent, Airtel 88 per cent, Glo 86 per cent and MTN ended up with 82 per cent. In the northwest, it was Etisalat 90 with per cent, Airtel 82 per cent, Glo 88 per cent and MTN 60 per cent.
The report shows that Airtel led in the South-South, recording 88 per cent. The rest were: Etisalat 86 per cent, MTN 71 per cent and Glo 78 per cent. Airtel also led in the South-West with 88 per cent, followed by Etisalat which had 81per cent, while Glo scored 79 per cent and MTN 72 per cent.
Airtel also led the way in the North-East with 78 per cent followed by Etisalat at 67 per cent, while MTN had 58 percent and Glo 53 per cent. The South-East produced the poorest result. Etisalat led with 85 per cent followed by Airtel at 75 percent. Glo recorded nearly 60 per cent, while MTN scored 53 per cent.
Generally, Etisalat was rated as the best service provider in Lagos, South-East, North-Central and North-West. It came second in the South-West, South-South and North-East. Airtel was the best operator in three regions – South-West, South-South and North-East. It came second in Lagos, South-East, North-Central and North-West. MTN finished third in South-South, North-Central and North-East; and fourth in the other zones – Lagos, South-West, South-East and North-West – where Glo came third, while Glo finished last where MTN was rated third.
“From such a quality of service check, analysts had thought NCC would apply its own prescription in dealing with the subscribers’ headache. Rather, the agency chose to come down hard on all the operators. The indefinite ban on all promotions and lotteries by network operators has continued to generate divergent opinions,” one industry analyst said.
Not a few subscribers believe that NCC should have taken the pains to sanction only those networks that have demonstrated lack of capacity to handle the increased traffic on the platforms as a result of the consumer promotions.
To Mr. Wale Thomas, a marketing communications consultant, the NCC is behaving like most establishments in Nigeria that would always look for the easy way out of any challenge. “Why would NCC institute a check on the network and refuse to implement the result of its own findings in dealing with culprits?” he asked. “The agency should have imposed the ban on networks that have failed to meet minimal standards rather than sweep all of them along.”
Commenting on the blanket ban, Mr. Moses Akapo, who operates a mobile phone dealership at the Computer Village in Ikeja, Lagos, advised the NCC to encourage the spirit of competition among the network operators, which would ultimately be to the benefits of the consumer. “If one or two network operators are found wanting and the NCC choose to impose the same penalty on all the licensees, it would be encouraging mediocrity rather than promoting meritocracy,” Akapo said.
In a recent interaction with journalists, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), had pointed out that issue of network congestion cannot be blamed on consumer promotions and lotteries. According to ALTON President, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, the major causes of poor service quality across networks could be attributed to natural and man-made disasters. He explained that the natural disaster of flooding in some southern parts of the country and the spontaneous attacks on telecoms facilities in some northern parts of the country by gunmen had contributed largely to service disruption.
According to Adebayo, “The impacts of the attacks had since limited the ability of millions of Nigerian subscribers to access telecommunications services, because the incidents affected over 250 telecoms sites that lost connection and many suffered significant damage beyond repairs.”
The ALTON President noted that the unprecedented flooding in some parts of the country destroyed Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) along its path, leading to significant service disruption in the affected areas, with consequential impact on service availability in some other parts that were not affected by the flood. “Other than disruption to services, our members have lost equipment worth several billions of naira to the flood disaster across the country, as over additional 300 BTS sites were affected by the flood,” he said.
Announcing the ban on consumer promotions and lotteries on the networks on November 8, NCC said it would be in force “until such a time as may be determined by the commission.” The regulatory agency said that the affected telecoms operators included Globacom Limited, MTN, Intercellular Nigeria Plc, Visafone Communications Limited, Etisalat, Airtel and Multilinks Telecoms Limited.