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Unsolicited SMSs/Calls: Subscribers demand faster solution to menace

By Adeyemi Adepetun
07 August 2016   |   3:11 am
Specifically, the operators, including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, Etisalat and other Value Added Service (VAS) providers were actually given up till June 30, 2016 to stop sending unsolicited SMS or calls to subscribers or face sanctions from the NCC.

Customers lose N30b monthly

Though the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has read a riot act to telecommunications operators in the country to curb the incessant menace of unsolicited Short Message Service (SMS), there appears to be no end yet.

Specifically, the operators, including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, Etisalat and other Value Added Service (VAS) providers were actually given up till June 30, 2016 to stop sending unsolicited SMS or calls to subscribers or face sanctions from the NCC.

A document obtained by The Guardian, dated April 19, 2016, which emanated from the Legal and Regulatory Department of the commission and directed to network operators showed that the telecommunications firms risk N5m fine if they failed to comply with the directive as at June 30, and further N500, 000 per day for as long as the contravention persists.

The letter was specifically directed to 13 Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), including MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat. Other notable service providers on the list are new owners of NITEL (NatCom) now trading as ntel; Smile Communications; Visafone Communications; Megatech Engineering Limited; Gicell Wireles Limited; Danjay Telecoms and Gamjitel. Moribund operators, including Starcomms and Multilinks, were also handed the directive.

According to the NCC, the directive, which has been communicated to affected operators, is pursuant to Section 53 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003.

The commission said it had been inundated with complaints from subscribers about the menace of unsolicited text messages and calls from MNOs, which had impacted negatively on consumer quality experience in the telecommunications industry.

Earlier in the month, the telecommunications regulator announced the commencement of enforcement of the ‘do not disturb’ code, which was targeted at erring operators who refuse to provide subscribers with the 2442 short code, which gives them the freedom to choose which messages they receive on their mobile phones.

However, almost a month after the directive NCC, it is not yet uhuru for the about 148 million active subscribers in the country as the complaints are still there about the menace of unsolicited SMS, which cuts across all the major networks.

For instance Thursday July 28, at the NCC organised Comsumer Outreach Programme, the 20th Consumer Town Hall Meeting, held at Sangotedo, Ajah, 90 per cent of subscribers who came for the programme lamented the menace of unsolicited SMS.

One of Airtel subscribers, Joy Akalefu, lamented that she was always bombarded with messages she never wanted.

According to her, apart from several unwanted text messages, “my credit is also deducted. They will say caller ring back tones, N50 is removed from little airtime.”

For Ajayi Omotayo, an MTN subscriber, he used to get messages on a daily basis titled: “MTN Gadget Care’, “I have called 180, they asked me to press some buttons, which I have done, but the menace is still there and they deduct my money. Please, tell them to remove it. I don’t want anything of such.”

Globacom subscriber, Emeke Andrew, also lamented that he still gets messages he never wanted on his network. According to him, this is a serious issue, which requires further checks from the regulator, “because I don’t know why orders will be given and the operators will not comply. If it continues, it shows that they are really making serious money from it and they find it difficult to stop.”

One of its subscribers, Alhaji Sikiru Alamu, who spoke in Yoruba, said, “the network has encouraged the menace. I used to get messages I don’t want, even very early in the morning. For example a particular message with the code 361: Hello your VideoStore subscription has been renewed. Service costs N20/day. To Download videos click http://videostore.ng. To unsubscribe, texts STOP to 6363.

“I have times without number sent stop, but the message kept coming. I don’t know what to do again,” he lamented.

These and many more of such complaints painted the hall red, as subscribers demanded faster solution to the menace.

The subscribers also charged the operators on the need to improve on quality of service offerings; opening of more customers care centres and stop fraudulent airtime deductions.

Officials of the MNOs, who were present at the venue, appealed to the subscribers to be calm that the respective telecommunications would resolve the challenges as fast as possible.

For instance, Samuel Okoh, who works with MTN, urged subscribers to activate the DND 2442 code to stop any messages that they considered troublesome to them.

Okoh said MTN is working to ensure it continue to provide the best of service to its 58 million subscribers in the country.

Doye Soreh from Etisalat said the firm has complied with NCC’s directive on the DND issue, stressing that any subscriber who doesn’t want to get any message should activate the 2442 code, “within 24 hours if there are no network challenges, it will be activated.”

On deductions as a result of caller tune activation, Olayeni Omoyemi of Airtel, said affected subscribers can send STOP to 791 “and such issue would be resolved immediately.”

Operators Claim To Have Activated The DND Code On Their Networks
Already, virtually all the operators claimed to have complied with the NCC’s directive on unsolicited SMS.

For instance, Globacom, in a statement on Monday July 25, said it had empowered its subscribers to stop any message they do not want by simply activating the ‘Do Not Disturb’ service on its network.

The service, according to the firm, allows a subscriber to decide which calls or text messages he would like to stop or keep receiving. Consequently, subscribers are able to manage all promotional messages sent to their lines with the option of either opting in or out.

Globacom said subscribers interested in using the service only need to text ‘help’ to a short code ‘2442’ to receive a list of fields from which they want to receive or block unsolicited messages.

Each of the fields has been assigned a code, which a subscriber can send to the dedicated shortcode. Those interested in receiving information on Banking, Insurance and Financial products, for example can send 1 to 2442, while subscribers who are interested in Real Estate are required to send 2 to 2442. For Education-related information, subscribers are required to send 3 to the short code, 2442.

For those who want information on health, the designated code to send to 2442 is 4, while 5 has been designated for information on consumer goods; 6 is for information on communications, broadcasting, entertainment and information technology.

Designated code number for tourism and leisure is 7, while sports is 8. The number to send to the short code for religious information is 9.

Globacom said the service would go a long way in enriching subscribers’ experience on the network.

The introduction of the service by Globacom is in compliance with a directive given by the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), recently that all operators should give the necessary instructions and clarifications that will enable their customers subscribe or unsubscribe to a particular service.

Subscribers willing to opt out of the service can send “STOP” to the same short code 2442.

Airtel, earlier in the month also announced the activation of the DND short code on the network; stressing that to use the service customers can text ‘help’ to 2442.

Chief Commercial Officer of Airtel Nigeria, Ahmad Mokhles, while commenting on the short code, noted that the company introduced it in compliance with the directive of the telecoms industry regulatory body, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and in response to complaints of unsolicited SMS or promotional voice calls by some customers.

Subscribers Demand Faster Solution To Menace

ETISALAT Nigeria too also claimed to have activated the DND facility to enable its over 19 million subscribers to opt-out completely or partially from receiving unsolicited marketing text messages and calls.

Speaking about the new service, Director, Regulatory and Corporate Social Responsibility, Etisalat Nigeria, Ikenna Ikeme said; “Our customers remain our priority at Etisalat Nigeria, because we recognise their preferences, not only in terms of the quality of products and services available to them, but also with regard to their experience on our network. Ensuring that the DND service is available on our network is one of the ways in which we continue to enhance our bouquet of services and enrich customer experience on the Etisalat network,” Ikeme said.

NATCOMS claims subscribers lose N30b monthly to unsolicited SMS
Before the order compelling operators to activate the DND code, at a forum last November, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS) had lamented that telephone users in the country were losing about N30b to unsolicited SMS monthly from the activities of Value Added Service Providers (VAS), which run on the platforms of the MNOs.

According to the President of NATCOMs, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, “At times, they will tell you they have automatically renewed what you never subscribed for and deduct money. Such messages claim between N50 to N200 to N500 monthly from subscribers. Our investigations showed that on the average, subscribers lose N200 monthly and when you multiply that by the about 150 million mobile telephone users in Nigeria, you will arrive at N30b. By the end of the year, we may be getting around N360b shared by telecommunications operators and their VAS collaborators, reaped illegally from subscribers.

“The industry must look at this very fast and act on it,” Ogunbanjo stated.

ALTON Wants All Hands On Deck To Tackle Menace
In an interview, the President of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said on the issue of unsolicited text messages, which is impinging on the quality of service delivery, all hands must be on deck.

“We all must work together as stakeholders. The regulators, the operators, as well as, the consumers must take collective responsibility on the state of quality of service. We must understand the workings of the industry; we must understand issues of policies and regulations and we must understand issues of consumer concerns and address those issues,” he said.

Adebayo noted that aside those span text messages that come from the operators; there are others that flow from the Internet, which is open platform, as well as, those that emanate from the VAS operators.

He, therefore, called for stringent regulation by the regulator to come hard on, especially the VAS operators, saying without such tough rules, it might be difficult to regulate their platforms.
NCC’s Deputy Director, Consumers Affair, noted that all the complaints raised at the July forum would be resolved amicably because of the monitoring mechanism of the commission.

“Now if you don’t want to be disturbed, you send STOP to 2442. But, we need to stress the fact that it is not all messages that are bad, some are quite educative, some give information about the weather, traffic, health, sport, among others. There is what we call full DND, that is don’t even bother me and there is partial DND, that is on issue of education send message to me, but on music, I don’t want. That is why the option of 2442 has been provided and the particular message you don’t want will stop coming. So, if you ban all text messages from coming in, you will not know when the message that will be beneficial to you will come. But as I have said, consumers are at liberty to choose what they want,” he stated.

The Director of Public Affairs at NCC, Tony Ojobo, who signed a reminder letter to the affected operators, said the action was taken in order to protect subscribers from the nuisance of unsolicited texts, and therefore a direct regulatory response to the yearnings of the subscribers.

“By this action, the commission has invoked a regulatory provision, which had hitherto been overlooked by the operators,” Ojobo said.