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Outrage forces telecoms firms to halt tariff increase

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja) and Yemi Adepetun (Lagos)   |   01 December 2016   |   4:35 am
Telecoms

Telecoms

ATCON, NATCOMS hail action

Responding to public outcry, the Senate yesterday asked the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to immediately stop the increase in data tariff by any of the telecommunications operators in the country.

One of the operators, the Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN), had sent messages to its customers informing them that with effect from December 1, 2016, there would be increase in some data tariffs.

The message reads: “Dear customer, please be informed that from December 1, some MTN data tariffs will be increased to reflect the new rates set by the NCC to the operators‎.”‎

The upper legislative chamber also resolved to commence comprehensive investigations into allegations of some failures in the operation of the service providers. It directed its Committee on Communications to invite the NCC leadership, service providers and other relevant stakeholders in the telecommunications sector and report back within one week.

The development followed a motion of urgent national importance moved by the Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South) who condemned the planned data tariff hike, saying it would cause serious hardship for the ordinary Nigerians.

Vice Chairman of the Committee, Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos West), in his contribution to debate on the matter declared that the policy was not only ‘unholy’ but ‘unfriendly’.

“We are up to the task. And I can assure the Senate that we will swing into action immediately. We will invite all the necessary agencies that are involved in this policy that is unholy and unfriendly and get back to the Senate unfailingly on Tuesday,” he said.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, criticised the NCC for not doing enough consultation before initiating the policy. He also asked the committee to investigate allegations of non-compliance with regulations made against mobile operators.

The NCC had directed mobile operators to initiate a new data tariff regime from December 1, 2016.

In a letter to the mobile operators dated November 1, the NCC stated that the interim floor price for data services was 0.90k/MB for big operators, and that “this rate will subsist pending the finalisation of the study on the determination of cost-based pricing for retail broadband and data services in Nigeria.

“In order to provide a level playing field for all operators in the industry, small operators and new entrants to acquire market share and operate profitably, small operators and new entrants are hereby exempted for the price floor for data services.”

NCC’s letter further reads:
“For the avoidance of doubt, a small operator is one that has less than 7.5 per cent market share and a new entrant is an operator that has operated less than three years in the market.

“All operators are to ensure that subscribers are not automatically migrated to pay-as-you-go platform. Also, note that effective date for the interim price floor is December 1, 2016.”


Meanwhile, the commission has suspended any further action in that direction.

In a statement yesterday in Abuja, the Director of Public Affairs of the commission, Mr. Tony Ojobo said the decision to suspend the directive was taken after due consultation with industry stakeholders and due to the general complaints by consumers across the country.

He said the commission had weighed all of this and consequently asked all operators to maintain the status quo until the conclusion of a study to determine retail prices for broadband and data services in the country.

In his reaction yesterday, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olushola Teniola, said the new data tariff had no justification. “According to the reports I’m getting, I can confirm to you that the directive by NCC introducing a data floor plan has been suspended until the determination of prices, both wholesale and retail, has been concluded. The status quo should remain. All operators should not increase their data pricing.”

Also reacting to the suspension, the President, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said tariff increase was never a tidy arrangement for the sector, “not even now that the economy is facing serious strain.”

Ogunbanjo, while welcoming the suspension, commended the NCC for being a listening regulator.

He, however, said next time, NCC would need to engage subscribers and the industry proper before taking such decision.




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