The feeling has gone from dismay to disgust and discontent in the minds of telecommunication consumers across the country as they are annoyingly inundated with unsolicited text messages, expeditiously sent by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), and Value Added Service (VAS) providers. Mobile subscribers have also expressed displeasure over their inability to opt out in any way.
This worrisome development, which is not peculiar to one operator, is sent to millions of subscribers at very odd hours in quick succession. More disturbing is the irrelevance of these unsolicited text messages, which can be regarded as spam SMS; and one cannot help but wonder if the MNOs take into cognizance privacy issues when they take to bombarding subscribers with these messages.
Ordinarily, Short Messaging Service (SMS), are a valuable means of communication but this has drawn the indignation of subscribers, because they constitute a nuisance, especially when sent without the receiver’s consent.
According to their complaints, although the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) has on several occasions warned VAS providers to restrict sending of unsolicited messages on the networks to the hours of 8.00am and 8.00pm, the move by the commission is belated, inadequate, and indecisive.
According to a telecom consumer, Yemi Afolabi, “The NCC is yet to take a firm stance on the issue despite issuing certain guidelines that have not been respected, because it is yet to resolve the issue of unsolicited SMS.
“I have tried the four major service providers at different times and discovered and come to the conclusion that they are all the same in this regard, none of them gave me a breathing space. For instance I am based in Ikeja and I was sent a message inviting me to a religious service to hold at Abuja, not even sure whether the message was sent to an Abuja based resident or whether the recipient share the same faith with them. If you ask me, these are all fraudulent acts and the NCC should live up to its responsibility by saving subscribers from the flurries of unwanted SMS; it is high time it redeem its name and image.”
Another consumer, Omodele Abayomi, said, “The NCC should put its foot on the ground and enforce regulations that will curtail the excesses of Mobile Network Operators because on the average I receive between 6 to 12 messages. Not only does all of them constitute nuisance, but they tamper with my privacy and as well subtly infringe on my rights.”
Rachel Oviawhe said, “The NCC should clamp hard on these telecoms companies because all they do is fleece consumers. These days they deduct money from me for services I did not subscribe to. I have had series of cases and I have evidence to that effect.
“The practice of sending unsolicited messages is not peculiar to Nigeria alone but it is regulated in other countries, this is what we as subscribers expect the regulatory body here in Nigeria to do. The Commission, service providers and VAS providers should not take subscribers in the country for granted, by permitting this reckless infringement of our privacy, as well as our right to receive or reject certain communication.
“I also call on relevant consumer protection agencies to equally rise up and seek redress to this issue which is gradually becoming a menace. We the consumers should be allowed to exercise our power of choice and any trend that endangers the exercise of such power should be discouraged and truncated.
“The issue of unsolicited text messages most especially at night should be frowned at by the regulators. Such messages have woken me up on several occasions and I think it is high time such practices be discontinued.”
Responding to the flurries of consumer complaints, on an aired programme this week, Director, NCC, Tony Ojobo, said the commission is developing some sanctions in the area of unsolicited text messages from the service providers.
According to him, the trend is one of the challenges that accompany technology. He said, “Some people actually attend events, approach guests and ask for their phone numbers. The fact is that there are people who actually pay for these information, and use it to push out information regarding their goods and services.
“But what we have directed the networks to do is to put a security in their networks to filter out those unsolicited messages that cause embarrassment to people, and very soon our regulation will be ready. We have had meetings with the network providers in this regard.”
The director added, “Because these information come from value added service providers but riding on the platform of the networks, we have asked them to blacklist those that push out unsolicited messages through their platform, and provide additional security and fishing infrastructure for their networks to filter out unsolicited text messages.”
Telecoms consumers complaints also consist dissatisfaction with data bundles plan, as it is in cases where people pay for data bundles which is supposed to last for a stipulated period of time (like 30 days), with network not provided adequately before the expiration of the data bundle, upon which the subscriber is required to pay for a fresh bundle or re subscribe.
Addressing complaints on challenges faced by the consumers who are overwhelmed with displeasure as regards data services, Ojobo admonished subscribers dissatisfied with the quality of services being provided with, to make complaint to their service providers for rectification; and if not satisfactorily compensated, should call the NCC toll free line: 622.
He said, “Any consumer who feels short changed and does not get the required attention and redress from his/her service provider should escalate to the commission and call us. The language options are English, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin, and we have agents on ground to take and attend to all sorts of complaints. I assure you that every complaint received is followed to the latter.
“Our contact centre works during the working hours; between 8:30am and 5:00pm, you should have access to 622. We have monitoring stations that monitor what happens in the national operating centres.”
In order for consumers of the telecoms industry to maximise full satisfaction, Ojobo said, “We have what we call consumer code of practice which we expect every network to have in their customers service centres. We have guidelines, when you buy a sim card for instance, there are some things written in small letters which actually are terms and conditions for offering their services. Also inside of that leaflet, you have the responsibility rules of the operator to the consumers.
“But the reality is that not too many people read this leaflet, actually, not up to 2% know what is written in that leaflet when they purchase their sim pack.
The director also stressed the need for subscribers to handle their sim cards with confidentiality, stating that there are standard terms between the consumers and their service providers, and the consumers have the responsibility to use their phones in such a way that it is not exposed to individuals who can have access to specific personal information and there lies the issue of responsibility.
“There are cases where a subscriber misplaces his/her phone, and it is hacked by an unknown person who accesses some vital information. This action violates the cyber crime act 2015, which provides a lot as regards issues that have to do with electronic communication,” he said.