Prioritising consumer rights: The NCC perspective

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A News Analysis by Constance Imasuen, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

In today’s world, Information Communications Technology (ICT) has taken the front burner in the formulation of government policies because of its importance to
the growth and development of the economies of nations.

However, educating telecom consumers is important as they are an integral part of the industry.

The growth of the sector largely depends on the understanding and active participation of users to bring about a thriving economy that largely contributes to the
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country.

Therefore, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the mandate and responsibility of regulating the industry, continued
to engage telecom stakeholders to achieving a robust digital economy.

According to the commission “the customer is king“ and in the bid to ensure that customers get satisfaction for their money, NCC has held lots of activities to
interact with consumers in the year 2018.

The activities, including consumer forum and stakeholders’ meeting,
were held in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) mainly to interact with phone users and educate them about their
rights as they used the communication gadget.

The commission also organised NCC Stakeholders Parliament, Sensitisation Programme on “Protection of Telecommunication Infrastructure, Telecom
Consumer Parliament (TCP) as well as Telecom Consumer Conversation in carrying out its mandate.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said during one of the fora that educating telecom consumers was necessary to enable them to have
better undertsanding of how the gadget work.

Danbatta said that the commission, through improved enlightenment
and education, would help consumers to make informed choices in the use of ICT services.

He added that “such educative programmes would also protect telecom service consumers’ rights and privileges. NCC, as the independent telecom regulator
in Nigeria, recognises that telecommunications services are very important to our nation.

“More importantly, consumers of telecommunication services deserve to get value for their money and be treated as important stakeholders in the scheme of
things as far as service delivery is concerned.’’

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Also, at a one-day stakeholders’ forum to brainstorm on Nigeria’s readiness for 5G and High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) technology, Danbatta stressed
the need for continuous engagement in the sector.

He said the the forum was to bring stakeholders in the telecom sector
to develop a regulatory framework in preparation for 5G and HAPS technologies.

Danbatta was represented at the forum by Mr Austine Nwaulune, the Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC.

According to him, there is need to prepare toward massive deployment of infrastructure to support the technology though the 5G framework is still being defined
by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

He explained that the commission had identified some potential frequency bands that might be harmonised for 5G deployment, and therefore suspended the
licensing of those frequencies.

The NCC boss stressed that this step would ensure that Nigeria was not caught unawares when those frequency bands were harmonised by standardisation
bodies, key among these are 26GHz, 38GHz and 42 GHz bands.

He noted that “HAPS is one of the emerging technologies developed to complement capacity expansion efforts to improve broadband access to both served
and underserved areas.

“The technology is unique and promising, and therefore often equipped with mission-dependent payloads, intended to act as fixed stations to deliver services
such as high-capacity wide area coverage broadband.’’

Danbatta said there was need for strategic government policies and robust framework, as well as required infrastructure for the sector to thrive.

In another fora in Minna, the commission harped on the need to protect telecom infrastructure from vandalism, adding that the act was compromising Federal
Government’s efforts toward providing quality service.

Miss Helen Obi, the commission’s Head of Zonal Operations, said telecom infrastructure served all citizens and should be owned collectively and everyone
should work against its vandalism so that it could serve the purpose for which it was meant.

She said “we are here to sensitise the people as stakeholders not only as consumers, including local governments and agencies of Federal Government on
the need to protect telecom infrastructure.

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“This is actually key to the 8-point agenda of the NCC Chief Executive, Prof. Umar Danbatta, to ensuring quality service and broadband penetration.’’

NCC also took time out to sensitise Nigerians on the hazards of counterfeit phones and telecom gadgets.

At a sensitisation programme in Lafiya, Nasarawa State, NCC said it was committed to ensuring that all equipment purchased for the purpose of carrying
out communication services were satisfactorily utilised and
users got value for their money.

The commission harped on the need to shun counterfeit telecommunication gadgets because of its effect on quality of service and beckoned on
Nigerians to patronise only approved handsets.

Dr Lawal Bello of the Department of Technical Standards and Network Integrity (TSNI) of the commission, said that the industry had continued to
lose huge sums of money as a result of vandalism of telecom infrastructure.

He said that the spate of destruction of telecom infrastructure across the country had slowed down the growth of services.

Bello outlined some of the challenges facing the sector as willful damage of telecom infrastructure to extort money from service providers and
local communities or individuals barring technical staff of service providers from installing equipment or carrying out repair on existing systems.

He added that diesel theft and digging up of cables for sale were also among the problems.

The TSNI official said that NCC had been using various avenues such as the Consumer Outreach Programme, the Telecom
Consumer Parliament to sensitise people and to educate them about the dangers associated with vandalism of such infrastructure.

Mrs Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, the Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau, said that such forum allowed for interactions with the public and stakeholders
in the telecom industry.

Onwuegbuchulam said that telecom consumers were the pay masters and the target beneficiaries of the industry so the commission must interact with
them for improved services.

During the sensitisation programmes, telecom users were given opportunity to ask questions and lay their complaints, which the commission pledged to look into.

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Stakeholders at the forum in their separate comments said NCC was doing its best to give quality service but urged it to do more.

Mr Austine Igbe, who represented the President, Nigerian Institute of Information Communication Technology (ICT) Engineers, said that the cost of not
embracing technology was higher than the cost of ignoring it.

He added that the nation must be critical of the health and safety implications of the current trends, and must prepare to make regulations that
would protect the citizenry from negative impacts.

He called for speedy passing of the bill on Telecom Infrastructure and the need to declare it a national asset.

Bello added that the protection of telecom infrastructure was not only NCC’s responsibility or that of security agencies, but of all patriotic citizens.

Mr Abubakar Salisu, the Permanent Secretary, Human Resources, Office of the Head of Service in Niger, urged the commission to give incentives to states
that have less cases of vandalism.

According to him, incentives will encourage states to do more and make others to follow.

Olayemi Akande, Consumer Advocacy Group of NCC, said that
the forum was a welcome development and urged NCC to try harder in sensitising consumers as a lot of people still complain about unsolicited text messages and call.

Akande said that the forum would also address many issues “as everybody is coming up with different ideas that will help to proffer solution to the issues at stake.’’

Another consumer, Mrs Esther Osunde, a Fashion Designer, said that NCC was doing its best to educate consumers on their rights but urged the commission to do more.

“NCC is doing its best but should ensure that telecom operators do more to ensure that consumers get value for their money.’’

Experts while commending NCC for the various steps taken to ensure that consumers get value for their money, however, argued that there is more
work to do in the telecommunication sector to ensure quality of service.

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