Burden of Nigerian Phone Users

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Omobola Johnson, minister of communication technology

Mobile telecommunications operators say they are not responsible for most of the unsolicited text messages into the phones of their subscribers

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Aug. 18, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

TELEPHONE users in Nigeria have one common burden. That burden is the series of unsolicited text messages mobile telecommunications operators repeatedly send into their phones. The text messages, which always come in as free trials of some of their services, have turned out to be a rip off of their subscribers. Contrary to what the subscribers have been told in the text messages, there are really no free days for service trial because as soon as one subscribes to the so-called five-day free service trial, a message comes immediately thanking the client for subscribing to the service. Thereafter, there would be forced deductions from the credits in the phones for the unsolicited service or services.

Many Nigerians have blamed the telecom operators for the rip off and called on the regulatory agency to take appropriate actions to stop the text messages. One of the consumers who doesn’t want his name in print, shared his experience with Realnews magazine. He said the introductory text messages hardly say anything about the cost of the service. “Great quotes can be the fuel to your fire when things are getting tough. To get Quotes FREE for five days that are guaranteed to lift spirits, send MOTIV to 385000. An examination of the text message showed that the proposal was sent on April 17, 2014 at 07:44:48pm. I subscribed immediately. Two days later, a reply came saying thank you for subscribing to Motivational Quotes Pack. You will now get Motivational Tips on your Mobile N75/wk. To opt out, send Stop MOTIV to 38500. This was on April 19, 2014 at 12:51:56pm.

“In a transparent business deal, the client would ordinarily expect to enjoy the quotes for five days free before confirming his subscription or otherwise. And the five days from April 19 should be April 24. But lo and behold, on April 25, after offering only four quotes on 19, 20, 21 and 23 April the Message Centre of the GSM provider sent a text saying Your Motivational Quotes Pack has been renewed for another seven days/N75, enjoy the service. To opt out send stop MOTIV to 38500, sender 34500; 25 April 2014; 10:43:30am. This sounded funny and deceitful as the five-day free trials had only just expired. The subscription, as a result was immediately stopped. One had hoped that this request to discontinue would take effect after the seven days duration of the renewed subscription.

Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, Nigerian Communications Commission
Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, Nigerian Communications Commission

“But again came a prompt reply. You have been unsubscribed from the Motivational Pack. To subscribe again, send MOTIV to 38500 at N75/week, sender 38500, 25 – April – 2014, 11:10:55am. Nothing was said about the N75 that had been deducted for the “renewed” subscription and no further quotes were received. We are now talking of a total of N150 collected under false pretences in the name of marketing. Can you imagine the number of millions of Nigerians that are similarly duped?” he asked.

But telecommunications operators in Nigeria, namely MTN, Airtel, Globacom and Etisalat have rejected blames that they are responsible for the increasing menace of unsolicited text messages and illegal credit deductions from customers accounts. Defending the allegations at the 75th edition of the Telecoms Consumer Parliament, TCP, organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, in Lagos, the operators accused some unscrupulous foreign data miners of exploring their networks. The operators claimed that the so-called data miners were working in connivance with guerrilla marketers.

Akinwale Goodluck, corporate service executive, MTN Nigeria, who blamed the increasing drop in the quality of service of late to weather conditions, said the issue of unsolicited SMS should not be dumped on the doorsteps of the operators alone, because of the growing trends of guerrilla marketers who go about obtaining, buying and selling of data captured from functions. He noted that no operator would want to offer bad services or disturb the peace of its consumers. “We put filters into the system and we are seriously working on this issue,” he said.

Corroborating Goodluck’s claim, Kenechukwu Ofili, manager, back office and complaints resolution, customer care at Etisalat Nigeria, said that the guerrilla marketers were in the habit of deceiving unsuspecting network subscribers. “It is something we are dealing with. I am not saying that operators are completely blameless in terms of unsolicited SMS, but the bulk of the text messages, especially those coming at 2am or 3am, by and large, are coming from the guerrilla marketers,” he said.

Maryam Bayi, NCC director, consumer affairs bureau, tasked the operators on the protection of consumers, reminding them that without the consumers, “there can never be any market.” She said network operators were yet to adhere to the commission’s warning, stressing that operators must by all means stop unauthorized value added service providers within their networks. Bayi, however, reminded them that the NCC had since commenced the enforcement process on identified VAS providers and the network operators, with the hope to sanction any erring operator, which failed to change.

The NCC said that in consistent with Section 89 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 which mandates the commission to monitor all significant matters relating to the performance of all licensed telecoms service providers and publish annual reports at the end of each financial year, it had developed compliance monitoring and enforcement strategies to achieve ethical market conduct and optimal quality of service in the Nigerian telecommunications industry.

It is a general belief that in a free market economy, consumers should be allowed to exercise their power of choice and any trend that endangers the exercise of such power, should be discouraged. Therefore, the NCC should add more efforts in ending the issue of unwanted text messages in Nigeria.

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