• Power reforms will boost broadband investment, says Sambo
• ‘Multiple taxations frustrate deployment of telecoms cables’
WITH effect from this month, a telecommunications operator in Nigeria, which fails to provide its subscribers instant Short Message Service (SMS) alert at the end of every call with details of each call and available balances to the subscribers will be liable to a fine of N5 million and a further N500,000 per day as long as the contravention persists.
This is the new mandate by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to service providers, such as MTN, Globacom, Etisalat, Airtel and the Code Division Multiple Operators, Visafone, Starcomms and Multilinks.
According to NCC’s Head, Media and Public Relations, Rueben Muoka, this move would curb subscribers’ complaints over billing irregularities.
Meanwhile, Vice President Namadi Sambo has said that reforms in the power sector would greatly enhance investment in broadband in the country.
Specifically, he said there has been dearth of investment in broadband connectivity, thereby making access to the internet impossible for many Nigerians.
Sambo spoke at an investment forum hosted by the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai, United Arab Emirates recently.
According to him, government has put in place measures to cushion investment challenges and create a safe environment that would guarantee greater interest of investors not only in telecommunications but also other areas of the economy.
Besides, subscribers in Zamfara and Katsina states may not be getting the best possible telecommunication services because of the activities of their state and local governments frustrating service providers from expanding.
According to Airtel Nigeria, “fibre optic cable deployment is being held up in some states, particularly Zamfara and Katsina, over Right of Way payments already made to the Federal Government and this is affecting further deployment.”
Airtel raised alarm concerning the two states as part of a general report on the environmental challenges of the telecoms industry with impact on quality of service at a press conference in Lagos on Monday.
Airtel Nigeria’s Director of Regulatory Affairs and Special Projects, Mr. Osondu Nwokoro, addressed the conference supported by the Chief Technical Officer, Mr. Awadhesh Kalia and the Director of Corporate Communication and CSR, Mr. Emeka Oparah.
Across the nation, Airtel added: “There are on-going threats and harassment by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government include site shutdowns and denial of access aimed at extracting multiple and illegitimate taxes and levies.”
On the billing issue, Muoka said: “This service is free to all subscribers with the commencement date for all the operators fixed for November 1, 2012. Any operator which fails to commence the service to its subscribers will be liable to fine in the sum of N5, 000,000 (five million naira) as sanction and a further sum of N500, 000 (five hundred thousand naira) per day as long as the contravention persists.”
He explained that the commission had in a directive issued since August 2012, mandated “that from November 1, 2012, all mobile operators shall send, free of charge, a message or an alert to both postpaid and prepaid subscribers after every call, SMS, or system generated charge or tariff, with a proviso that a subscriber can opt out if he or she so wishes.”
According to him, the directive “mandates the subscribers to send messages containing six pieces of critical information including: exact duration of the call minutes and seconds, total cost for each call or SMS; customer accounts balance after the last call for prepaid and SMS; customer account balance after a charge or tariff and the reason for the charge or tariff; cumulative call charges up to the last call within the charging period for postpaid customers; cost of services and credit balance upon request by customer for data service.”
He said the directive issued to the operators was in line with the provisions of Section 53(1) of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, adding that this was in response to one of the major concerns of the subscribers as it relates to the actual amounts deducted from their credit balances by the service providers for each call or SMS sent.
“With this directive, subscribers are empowered to promptly discover any anomaly in their bills, and will be able to prove if they are billed for calls that they did not make,” he stated.
Sambo explained that although the country had experienced a monumental growth in voice telephony, there was a missing link in broadband as the cost for its acquisition was still very much high.
“Mr. President would have liked to have been here to illustrate the level of importance that we attach to this sector. This is a sector that cannot be discussed exclusively; therefore I would like to share with you some of the added values that are being planned for national growth.
“One of the major issues is the aspect of power supply. I would like to share with you that at the outset of this administration in 2010, Nigeria was generating 2,000MW of electricity. Today, we are generating 4,300MW. We are building 10 new turbine power plants which are all at advanced stages of completion and when completed, the 10 plants will add 5,000MW to the national grid.”
The Vice President who lauded NCC tasked the agency on improved regulation of the sector, saying “we have also reached an advanced stage in the construction of a large hydro power plant known as the Mambilla power plant which will add 3,050MW. Also, we will soon start the construction of the Zungeru hydro-power plant that will add an additional 700MW. Furthermore, we are exploring alternative energy sources.”
He said Nigeria had signed an agreement with Siemens that would produce 450MW of solar power in the first year of the project’s commencement.
According to Airtel, there are also challenges in various communities. Many local chieftains see telecommunication sites as sources of income and forcefully demand various payments, in the process preventing access to the sites for routine maintenance.
This practice, Nwokoro added, hurts the communities even more as residents suffer loss of service in an era where such services have become critical for family relations and general connectedness.
In the case of the North, Airtel said telecom services are suffering in seven states due to terrorists’ activities. Mostly affected are Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Katsina, and Kaduna. The attacks on facilities in the North East in particular affect not only the direct states but also subscribers in other locations across the country.
As part of remediation efforts, Airtel said it has reactivated 112 out of 193 sites bombed out in the North and is working on fixing the others.
It urged the Federal Government to speed up action on the planned policy on Right of Way payments as well as declare telecommunications Critical National Infrastructure given their growing importance in civil administration, finance, aviation and various other services critical to the functioning of modern societies and nation states.
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