Following claims by the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS) that telephone users in the country lose about N30 billion to unsolicited Short Message Service (SMS) monthly from the activities of Value Added Service Providers (VAS), the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has charged the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to find a lasting solution to the menace immediately.
While the MNOs search for a lasting solution to the menace, they (MTN, Globacom; Airtel and Etisalat) have equally claimed that most of the unsolicited text messages do not come directly from them but through the VAS providers.
NATCOMS had lamented the losses in Lagos, at the NCC organised Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF) with the theme: Effective Service Delivery: Issues and Challenges.
NATCOMS President, Deolu Ogunbanjo, who presented a paper titled: “Service Providers’ Compliance; Unsolicited SMS, Automatic Data Plan Renewal and Credit Depletion”, said so many Nigerians are bleeding through this menace.
Ogunbanjo, who said the time has come for better regulation of this aspect of Nigeria’s telecommunications sector, based his analysis on the fact that on the average, telecommunications subscribers in Nigeria spent about N200, which the operators deduct from their accounts without permission.
Telecommunications subscribers lose N30 billion monthly to the activities of VAS providers, who unleashed various unsolicited SMS on customers. Even when they tell you, after deducting money from your account to press STOP, after pressing STOP, more messages will come and your money will still be deducted.“Atimes, they will tell you they have automatically renewed what you never subscribed for and deduct money. Such messages claim between N50 to N200 to N500 monthly from subscribers. Our investigations showed that on the average, subscribers lose N200 monthly and when you multiply that by the about 150 million mobile telephone users in Nigeria, you will arrive at N30 billion. By the end of the year, we may be getting around N360 billion shared by telecommunications operators and their VAS collaborators reaped illegally from subscribers.
“The industry must look at this very fast and act on”, Ogunbanjo stated.
In a post event interview, the Director, Consumer Affairs Department, NCC, Alhaji Abdullahi Maikano, admitted that there challenges as regards the control of menace of unsolicited SMS, stressing that operators must sit up and work on the challenges.
Maikano disclosed that the NCC will meet with the operators soonest to identify what could be the challenges they are facing in checkmating the activities of VAS providers on their networks, stressing that this has become very important so that consumers will not continue to suffer from the menace.
Earlier in his opening remarks, Maikano said since its creation, ICAF has made numerous valuable recommendations and suggestions on topical issues affecting consumers and as such, has identified issues that need to be looked into, ranging from billing (dropped balance), Automatic Data Plan Renewal/Forceful migration of consumer to unsubscribed platform, unsolicited text message, undelivered text messages, dropped calls, inability to deactivate caller tune(s) and unsolicited services.
Admitting that consumers have been bombarding operators about various complaints, which unsolicited SMS has become the chief, MTN Official at the event, Eghertor Idehen, said telecommunications firm, including MTN are working to assuage the pains of subscribers, stressing that most of those messages don’t actually come from their networks, but through short codes VAS operators use.
Idehen advised consumers to limit the way they give out their details, especially their telephone numbers at events and functions, stressing that VAS providers latched on them when they have access and the whole complaints go to operators.
Speaking for Etisalat, a representative, Oladotun Muyiwa, called for more support from NCC, especially for subscribers in roaming environment, lamenting that telecommunications operators have little or no control on VAS providers, “but at Etisalat, we are working to ensure all of them have identifiable route on the network”.
Speaking at the event, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said, on the issue of unsolicited text messages, which is impinging on the quality of service deliver, all hands must be on deck.“We all must work together as stakeholders. The regulators, the operators as well as the consumers must take collective responsibility on the state of quality of service. We must understand the workings of the industry; we must understand issues of policies and regulations and we must understand issues of consumer concerns and address those issues,” he said.
Adebayo noted that aside those span text messages that come from the operators, there are others that flow from the Internet, which is open platform as well as those that emanate from the VAS operators.He therefore called for stringent regulation by the regulator to come hard on, especially the VAS operators, saying without such tough rules, it might be difficult to regulate their platforms.