By Anthony Kolawole PhD.
“Your subscription to The Guardian monthly has been renewed successfully and 150.00 deducted from your account. Your service will be renewed on 2016-05-31. To cancel, text NO TGM to 4900. Thank you!” That was one of the frequent and obtrusive SMS that delivered to my phone. Was that a problem? Yes. The problem was that I never subscribed to any ‘Guardian Monthly’ news alert and the bigger problem was that N150 was deducted from my voice call balance.
At N150 per week, I was going to be losing N7, 800.00 just for this rogue service each year. If I multiply that by ten out of the more than 37 other short codes that send me unsolicited offers every other fifteen minutes then I stand to lose anything in the vicinity of N78,000 each year and that is minus the caller tunes that can be accidentally subscribed to.
Following the direction given, I sent ‘NO TGM to 4900’ and the response I got was “you are not a subscriber of requested SMS Alert Service. To Know About More Services, Please Type HELP and send it to 3307*.” Yet, my N150 remained deducted.
Contacting the network provider’s customer care via the online chat platform was a lesson in time wasting. Ifeoma at the other end of the chat maintained or feigned that sense of helplessness throughout the duration of the exchange. I simply terminated the chat and resolved to never use that line again since I have been similarly debited for a caller tune I didn’t order as well as countless other deductions that I didn’t know of until I notice an unusual speed at which my remaining airtime balance is depleted.
I find it difficult to blame the network provider for this theft, instead I blame the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, which has the power and regulatory wherewithal to protect me from this criminality. More than the N150 that was extorted from me, I also hold the NCC responsible for every single kobo that I lost to bad quality phone calls that I was charged for. If NCC did its work of enforcing standard and quality these unwholesome and sharp practises by the telecoms would not be happening.
My hope that a recent consultative forum organised by the NCC to discuss its draft regulatory framework on Value Added Service (VAS – which forms part of those robo calls and marketing SMS) in Lagos would bring an end to my troubles was dashed.
It was immediately clear to me that the NCC has little muscle to call the shots in the face of the big telcos. The network providers more or less shoved its draft regulatory framework back in its face even though the media reports that followed attempted some damage control.
I don’t know what compromise rendered the NCC into such a toothless bulldog or impotence, but to the extent that my phone line is serviced with my hard earned money, I have my demands for our dear regulator.
There is a reason why regulatory systems exist worldwide and we cannot be an exception in Nigeria. The NCC cannot come up with a draft framework that is meant to protect Nigerian consumers of telecom services and then quickly back away because the network operators are not comfortable or agreeable to it. If they can get away with this how soon before they would unilaterally decide to impose other outrageous tariffs regimes on us?
The concept contained in the draft framework hinted at taking away the value added service component away from the network operators and vesting same functions to other segments of the sector like developers, hosting companies and aggregators. Since this concept is said to be in my interest as a subscriber then the NCC has no business compromising my interest the way it is doing.
If I understand correctly, an aggregator would have been able to evaluate, screen and vet a content before sending to me only if I have indicated interest in receiving such by signing up for it.
The freedom from being bombarded with unsubscribed, unwarranted and unwanted messages and the like is something that the NCC and its partners – as the network operators have become – must not attempt to take away from me.
I further gathered that the framework would have made it possible for me to see the phone number of the organisation or person that is spamming my phone so that I can call them back to deliver my own version of ‘cease and desist’ order. Since this will firmly put me in charge of what content gets sent to my phone I want this guideline approved like right away.
These changes are not too much to ask even though I must concede that it would be too much to ask if the NCC is an enforcer for the network operators instead of working for Nigerians.
This piece is therefore a wakeup call to other Nigerians to demand that the NCC pushes through the necessary policy framework to make sure that the exploitation of subscribers under any guise is stopped forthwith.
Kolawole is a University Lecturer writing from Keffi, Nasarawa State