Senate, NCC And GSM Service Providers

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One major problem which has persistently troubled Nigerians, particularly GSM subscribers in the past 12 years or thereabouts is the epileptic services provided by GSM service operators. Not even the resolution of the Senate and sanctions against them by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory organ have deterred the erring service providers to have a change of heart and make a difference towards providing efficient services to their subscribers.

Aside NCC’s hammer on major GSM operators in May this year totaling over N1.2 billion as penalty for poor services to their subscribers, the Senate, last week, gave marching orders to GSM firms in the country to improve on their lingering poor services or quit the country.

Speaking through the Senate’s Committee on Communications, its chairman, Gilbert Nnaji said the upper legislative House would soon invoke the relevant section of the law to either make the GSM operators perform effectively or leave the shores of Nigeria. Nnaji did not mince words when he affirmed that “GSM firms must be sensitive to the sufferings of Nigerians, if they must continue to operate in the country.

While speaking during the committee’s public hearing on the deteriorating service of GSM providers, the Senator described as highly unacceptable the prevailing ugly trend, asserting that Nigerians deserved nothing but the best in the area of telecommunications, considering the huge investments the Federal Government had made in the subsector, since the inception of GSM in Nigeria in the year 2000.

I recall vividly that the Obasanjo’s regime granted tax holidays and other incentives to service providers upon licence acquisition to enable the operators deploy sufficient funds for infrastructural development and efficient service delivery.

But government’s gesture to the operators appears to have been lost, considering the fact that GSM firms, till date are yet to reciprocate by way of efficient service delivery  to their teeming subscribers. Infact, the billions of naira they rake in quarterly and annually do not in any way reflect on the quality of service rendered.

Perhaps, that informs why the NCC in the first quarter of 2012 sanctioned the four major networks, viz: MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat to the tune of N1.17 billion as penalty for poor quality of services rendered to their different subscribers in the months of March and April, 2012.

According to the NCC’s authorities, the operators were sanctioned for contravening the provisions of the quality of service regulations and their inability to meet the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Like  other developed parts of the globe, operators are expected to meet 98 percent Call Setup Success Rate (CSSR), two per cent Call Drop Rate (CDR), 96 percent Call Completion Rate (CCR) and other pre-conditions set out by the regulatory authority. But from all indications, none of the GSM firms are meeting these guidelines which occasioned the NCC’s hammer on them in the first quarter of this year.

However, rather than pay the penalty for poor services, they resorted to protest to higher authorities, thereby defying NCC’s target for the payment of sanctions, citing among other reasons, poor power, insecurity and other logistical constraints for their epileptic services to their subscribers.

May 21, 2012 was the deadline for such payments, but, according to telecommunications sources, none of them had paid by that date. It was gathered that only MTN paid in June, perhaps due to mounting pressure from the Presidency and the National Assembly on the implications of disobeying the NCC, the regulatory body.

I reason that the operators may have thought that complete non-compliance with NCC’s sanctions will ultimately be counter-productive as was evidenced   by the Senate’s position last week, that the necessary provisions of the law will be invoked on them if they remain recalcitrant and adamant  by exhibiting corporate rascality.

Well, to be fair to the operators, the business terrain may not be the best for them for now due to the increasing security concerns, especially in the northern part of the country. But that can not be said to be the picture in Western and Southern Nigeria where business still thrives and flourishes.

It is no secret that these major service providers post billions of naira as profit quarterly despite their flimsy excuses of hostile business environment. Besides, the Power Ministry under the watch of Professor Barth Nnaji, (who I must confess is doing a great job in the power sector) promised a special power arrangement/supply for the GSM firms to enhance their performances.

On the other hand, the operators’ claim of multiple and over-taxation had  been debunked by the Federal Inland Revue Service (FIRS) who challenged the operators to come up with explicit evidences of  illegal taxes imposed on them by any of the three tiers of government or governmental agencies.

If truly the operators are  sincere with their claims of running out of business due to unfavourable business environment, how many of them are out of business in Nigeria despite the so-called hindrances?   Can they conveniently tell us their financial records to buttress their claims?

Does their earnings, compared to their expenditures sufficiently mitigate the challenges they encounter as to warrant their continued stay in business? Is there truly any market in Africa    that provides higher Returns On Investment especially in the telecommunications industry than Nigeria?

Nigeria’s infrastructural under-development can not and should not be sufficient reason why GSM firms should compromise international standards like their counterparts in the oil and gas sector. I earnestly believe that Nigeria is not the worst business climate in Africa, compared to  other climes where telecoms business is being operated and made functional, effective and efficient.

From all indications, the operators are breaking even. Statistics show that returns on investment are encouraging and high. It is expected, therefore, that hindrances of the operating environment should not warrant non-committal attitude and disposition of operators to spending “one naira more” on their investments for good quality services to their subscribers.

It is my candid suggestion that the NCC and other relevant organs of government should seal up offices of erring and defaulting operators  since it does appear that all the diplomatic measures taken so far by the regulatory body to call them to order had failed.

The poor service delivery currently witnessed by over 100 million Nigerian subscribers to GSM services is unacceptable and must be stopped now or never. Enough of corporate rascality and insensitivity to the plight of customers who pay through their nose to the service providers. The international minimum standard of telecoms services must be enforced in Nigeria, which indeed is part of the global village.