Nigeria: Enough of Telecom Lotteries

The excuses telecom operators in the country usually give for the poor quality of service they are rendering include security threats and irregular power supply that have affected their ICT infrastructure and generators at base stations. Unknown to many subscribers, a major culprit has been the promotions and lotteries the GSM companies have been running.

Since the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) placed a ban on promotions and lotteries by the telecom operators, the quality of their services has not really improved, however. Apparently, it is because they have not complied fully with the regulator’s demand. The ban covers all proposed and approved promotions and lotteries following the memorandum of understanding entered into with the National Lottery Regulatory Commission.

Prior to the ban, the regulator had been inundated with complaints from subscribers and other industry stakeholders against the promotions and lotteries as well as the poor quality of service provided by the operators. For its part, the NCC discovered that the promotions and lotteries had increased the number of minutes available to subscribers for use within a limited period of time, and, because the subscribers tried to use up the available minutes, congestion in the networks was created.

While the promos lasted, on-net calls were being offered at tariffs well below the prevailing inter-connect rates. This practice introduced anti-competition behaviour. NCC also noticed the increasing difficulty with which calls are terminated from one network to another. Citing misuse of market power and unfair practices on the part of the operators and the general consumer dissatisfaction with the networks, the regulator placed the ban on promos and lotteries.

We hope that, in time, the expected improvement in quality of service will materialise. But we are at one with the NCC on this step it has taken. The companies’ primary duty is provision of efficient and effective services; they should not concentrate their efforts on turning every Nigerian into a gambler and cause subscribers to suffer unduly. By now, call tariffs ought to have reduced drastically in the country, but the telecom firms have always pointed at the challenges of the business environment.

However, the profits some of them declare make this argument unattractive. The telecom business is volume-driven everywhere in the world – except Nigeria. Eleven years ago, the providers had fewer than 10 million subscribers; today there are about 120 million Nigerians using the cell phone, yet the call tariffs remain high and the telecom operators keep running promos or lotteries to get more money. That Nigerians tolerated them must be one of the wonders of the 21st century!

NCC used to be more active in defending the operators than in protecting the consumers. Let’s hope the regulator has turned a new leaf and Nigerians will no longer be treated unfairly.