The Minister of Communications and Digital, Isa Pantami is definitely going through a difficult time. It appears he does not have a grip on the telecommunications sector as his directives to end voicemail charges, illegal data deduction and cut data cost have been disregarded by the network providers.
Directive on voicemail unheeded: Telecoms companies were directed by the Minister to deactivate voicemail services on its subscribers’ lines but the telcos seem unwilling to do that anytime soon, according to the statement of its umbrella group, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).
The Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo said subscribers who are not interested in the voicemail services can opt out, so government intervention is unsolicited. Pantami gave the order in November 2019, instructing the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure the telecoms comply with his directive.
Pantami had accused the network providers of exploiting its subscribers with the aid of automatic activation of the voicemail service on their platforms. It was stated that the telcos were gaining financially by compelling subscribers to use the voicemail service by default.
But Adebayo said it’s a basic system feature that doesn’t require regulatory action.
“Voicemail is a value-added service offered to all willing subscribers and those who do not want the service can always opt out of voicemail services.
“It is a basic system feature and not one of those services requiring policy or regulatory intervention,” he said in a report by Punch.
Telcos disregard data directive: The telecom firms have also not complied with Pantami’s directive on data usage and cost. The Minister had criticised the deduction of data by the network providers, describing it ‘illegal’ and informing the NCC to ensure the telcos put an end to it.
But according to one of the network providers, MTN, in a Nairametrics report, the consistent data deduction is due to system upgrade. MTN said the speed of its network causes the data depletion at the rate being experienced by its subscribers but other telcos have kept mum on this.
The minister also ordered the reduction of data cost, stating that data price in Nigeria is too high. But since he gave the directive three months ago, words haven’t translated into actions on the part of NCC and the network providers, who have constantly pick holes or allegedly ignore Pantami`s directives.
Reacting to the claim that the high deduction of data is illegal, Adebayo said, “There are no such things as illegal deduction by any operator,” and when responding to directive on data price cut. There are regulatory procedures and framework for price variation and we will continue to comply will all such provisions as may be directed by the NCC, our regulator, from time to time.”
Telcos have their own demand: While the network providers have ignored the directive of the Minister, they have their own demand which they hope to see done this year. They want the government to amend the Tax Order of 2015 in order to reduce multiple taxation.
“Illegal closure of telecom sites in the name of tax and revenue collection is an aberration that must be met with severe sanctions,” Adebayo added.
Telcos pay statutory taxes levied on operators, Annual Operating Levy of certain percentage of earnings to the NCC and are also charged various rates by some other agencies of the federal, state and local governments.
Why this matters? When the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) gave a directive to the banks to cut charges on ATM withdrawals and other bank charges, Pantami was quick to commend the action of the apex bank, stating that it would drive digitalisation in Nigeria. While the CBN directive has taken hold on banks within days of notice, telecoms are yet to implement the directive issued to NCC by Pantami three months after.