Regulator sees telecommunications as fundamental human right
THE world today continues on a path of remarkable technological change in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) domain. ICT is the lifeblood of organisations and essential for innovation and continuous learning, while at the same time essential for any individual that is attempting to understand and manage his or her intellectual capital, often in a global context.
Indeed, for students of law, a listing of the fundamental human rights of a human being would include the right to life, the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of expression among others.
These are the rights that inalienable to man. Because a man is born with these rights, they are not subject to negotiation.
However, in a digital era when many activities are migrating to the virtual space; having these rights doesn’t seem to guarantee the enjoyments. In recognition of the limitations of the rights, efforts are now on to expand the frontiers of the fundamental rights of a man.
This came to the fore at a forum hosted by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in Abuja, held to enlighten telecommunications subscribers about how to enjoy the new life that has come with mobile telecommunication revolution in Nigeria.
At the forum, Director of Public Affairs at NCC, Tony Ojobo, declared to participants what could have been far-fetched in Nigeria some years ago.
According to the International Telecommunications Union, telecommunications has become a fundamental human right, Ojobo said, adding that NCC was working hard to help Nigerians to enjoy that right along with other citizens of the world.
Ojobo said, “Basically, what we do is to create the enabling environment for telecommunications to grow to be able to provide access. The International Telecommunications Union has indicated that telecommunications has now become a fundamental human right. This means that wherever you are, you should have access.
“When we talk about universal access, we are talking about access to telecommunications within five kilometre radius. So our mandate is to ensure there is access to telecommunications for all Nigerians.
“We also set quality of standards. We ensure compliance to those standards and where it is established there has been breaches; of course, the commission imposes some kind of penalties.”
He added, “When we talk about telecommunications, people talk about the regular voice communications but it goes beyond that to data communications. Now data communication has become key to our lives.
“When you are talking about data communications, you are talking about even the alert you get from your bank when maybe, somebody pays money into your account. It includes the emails; the whatapps; the test messages.
“It includes the transactions you have on the ATM machines. It includes the communications you have with the POS terminals when you go to the supermarket. Now, all of these are services riding on telecommunications. Essentially, what we are saying is that telecommunication is life and it has affected the way we live daily.
“Let me inform you; the last election we had, all the card readers had SIM cards provided by different networks for the Independent National Electoral Commission to use. So it tells you that telecommunications has become life. You cannot remove it from our daily routine.”
Ojobo said in recognition of the fundamentality of telecommunications to the lives of the people, the Nigerian government has been providing the environment for the networks to expand even as it continues to push the frontiers for the expansion of data communication which he sees as the present and the future of telecommunications.
According to him, this has produced results as subscribers to both voice and data communications continue to grow as indicated by statistics recently released by the communications regulatory agency.
He said, “As at today, the tele-density is 100.45 per cent. And we have 81 million internet users. As at our last statistics in February, 81 million Nigerians are on the internet. We have 145 million active subscribers. That gives an indication of the size of the industry. In other words, our action or inaction affects 145 million subscribers.
“We are talking about subscribers; not people. We recognise that every number is a subscriber whether you have two lines or three lines. Every number is seen as a subscriber. So we have approximately 145 million subscribers and we have about 81 subscribers who are on the internet. Under that 81 million, you have a number of people who are doing a lot on the internet including businesses.
“Today, we have people who have their businesses on their laptops or their tablets or their phones. That is their office. All they are doing is from that platform. Their banking transactions are done on the cell phone, the online purchases are done on the cell phone; hotel reservations are done on the cell phone and airline reservations are done on the cell phone. That means that there is a lot of vibrancy on this industry and people are beginning to wonder; what would have been happening in Nigeria without the mobile revolution.”
Expounding on the telecommunications rights of subscribers, the Enugu Zonal Controller of NCC, Abang Lawrence, said subscribers have right to demand and get good quality of service as much as possible.
He said, “Telecommunications users have the right to be involved. They have a right to know all the requirements of the services they are getting from the operator. They have a right to question the quality of services they are receiving. They have a right to a quick response to their complaints.”
Recognising that a man’s rights can be trampled upon by those that are supposed to help him enjoy the right to quality telecommunications services, Lawrence said the regulatory agency had put a process in place for subscribers to seek redress.
Explaining the process, he said, “The commission has always directed that people who have complaints should first exhaust all the channel mechanisms of the operator before they escalate it to the commission.
“If they go to the service centre of the operator and make a complaint, the operator is obliged by NCC to issue them a complaint ticket number and to resolve that complaint to the satisfaction of the complainant and the commission.
“We have a consumer affairs department which manages this process. We also have call centres which manages complaints from operators when they cannot conclude these issues with the complaints.
“We have customer care number which can be called when the issues have not been satisfactorily resolved and then the commission will swing into action to ensure that the satisfaction of all parties involved.”
For Ojobo, the bridge to ensuring that service providers do what they pledged and meet the expectation of consumers is anchored on monitoring operators both on the technical and economic fronts.
Ojobo said, “We monitor a wide range of parameters – technical parameters; economic parameters. Technical, here we are talking about the quality of standards thresholds that networks are expected to meet. And to that intent, we have a set of key performance indicators that have established thresholds that include things like call drops and congestion.
“All of these are parameters that are measured and those measurements that have been established are in line with international best practices; all of them. Those are the measurements that are given to the networks and they are expected to meet them. When you are on the road and you are making calls and all of a sudden, the call drops; there is a maximum number of calls within a population that is within the acceptable standard.
“There is also economic regulation. With economic regulation, we are looking at things like tariffs where a network is not supposed to come up with any tariffs without the approval of NCC. You cannot increase or reduce tariffs without the approval of the regulator. So what it means is that there is both the economic regulation and there is also technical regulation aspect and these aspects are supposed to go together to ensure that we have the kind of quality of service that we need.
“We can also include things like promotions like we have had in the past where networks have all kinds of promotions (such as you make this number of calls, you have this amount of airtime). What we have said to them is that if you are going to have this kind of promotions, the network should be dimensioned in such a way that it can carry additional traffic that will be generated because of the promo.”
He added that an operator that must run a promotion that is lottery based must first get approval from the National Lottery Commission and also secure the approval of the telecommunications regulatory agency.
According to him, if the promotion will impact on the quality of the network; the NCC declines approval as a way of forestalling deterioration in the quality of services provided to subscribers.