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Nigeria: Telecoms Operators Say Minister Pantami’s Army-style Directives Embarrass Laws Establishing Regulator NCC

IT News Nigeria

Nigeria Telecoms service providers have said military-style directives emanating from the office of  Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami not only embarrass and degrade the laws that established Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) but also a bad fate for the over $70 billion industry built on free market and robust regulation.

The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) ALTON said this in response to the most recent deactivation order on voice mail by the Minister, insisting that Voice mail is opt-in value added service.

ALTON’s chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo said the federal government should be cautious not to appear to be muzzling the independence of the telecom regulator, NCC from acting in the best interest of all stakeholders that include consumers and operators.

“Government needs to look at issues of right policy to aid competition and how telecom operators share infrastructures in a way that could minimise the cost of delivering services.”

Telecoms operators said the claimed order for deactivation of Voice Mail Protocol by Service Providers’ Network as a ‘policy issue’ maintained that within the Section 23 and 24 of the Nigerian Communications Act, “this is not a major ‘policy issue’ which must align with consultations to be organized by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

ALTON, the group which is the umbrella of all licensed mobile network operators, noted that Voicemail (VM) “is a mere operational/consumer protection issue which the Ministry can simply call NCC’s attention to,” and said the minister’s move amounted to unnecessary interference on the apex industry watchdog, NCC.

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ALTON said “VM is a value-added service. Only those who opt-in should have it” stressing that the current practice on some networks is that once subscribers call and the recipient does not pick, “you get a voice prompt saying that the subscriber is not available and asking you to record a voice message *after the tone*”

The Association added that, for the avoidance of doubt subscribers are not billed anything, but if they delay in either exiting in the event of not wanting the voicemail, “they may be charged for a few seconds, or for the time it takes you to record the message.”

ALTON pointed out that the recipient of the VM does not get charged for listening, because “It is free.”

ALTON chairman said that voice mail is a value added service and should only be provisioned for those who expressly request for it, recalling that MNOs reintroduced the VM facility to discourage people who “flash” continuously.

“Flashing wastes network resources and also degrades QoS reporting. This should not however justify the practise the way it is being done by some networks” they said.

ALTON, however maintained that, VM is not a major “policy issue” within the meaning of Section 23&24 of the Communication Act which empowers the Minister to formulate “general policy for the communications sector…” after due consultations organised by the NCC, describing it as a mere operational cum consumer protection issue which the Ministry could simply refer to NCC’s attention.

“It is a purely consumer related issues that minister refers to as a major policy issue and also amounts to unnecessary interference by the Minister contrary to Section 25 subsections 1 & 2 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003,” ALTON insisted.

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