Tel­cos defy min­is­ter, say voice­mail reg­u­la­tion not re­quired

The Punch - - BUSINESS & ECONOMY - Ihuoma Chiedozie, Abuja

Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors in the coun­try have in­sisted that the voice­mail ser­vice on mo­bile tele­phone lines does not re­quire pol­icy or reg­u­la­tory in­ter­ven­tion from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment or its agen­cies.

The as­ser­tion by the tel­cos, un­der the aegis of As­so­ci­a­tion of li­censed Tele­coms op­er­a­tors of Nige­ria, fol­lowed an or­der is­sued by the min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Dig­i­tal econ­omy, Dr isa Pan­tami.

Pan­tami had, in Novem­ber 2019, or­dered the de­ac­ti­va­tion of voice­mail ser­vices on all ex­ist­ing phone lines in the coun­try.

The min­is­ter di­rected the sec­tor reg­u­la­tor, the Nige­ria com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­mis­sion, to en­sure that the ser­vice providers com­plied with the or­der.

The min­is­ter claimed that mo­bile Net­work op­er­a­tors were us­ing the au­to­matic activation of the voice­mail ser­vice on their plat­forms to ex­ploit Nige­ri­ans.

About two months since the di­rec­tive was is­sued, there is no in­di­ca­tion that the tel­cos com­plied with the or­der.

The chair­man of AL­TON, mr Gbenga Ade­bayo, told our cor­re­spon­dent that the voice­mail ser­vice was a “ba­sic sys­tem fea­ture” that did not re­quire the in­ter­ven­tion of the gov­ern­ment.

“Voice­mail is a value added ser­vice of­fered to all will­ing sub­scribers and those who do not want the ser­vice can al­ways opt out of voice­mail ser­vices.

“it is a ba­sic sys­tem fea­ture and not one of those ser­vices re­quir­ing pol­icy or reg­u­la­tory in­ter­ven­tion,” he said.

While or­der­ing the de­ac­ti­va­tion of the voice­mail on mo­bile phone lines, Pan­tami had al­leged that the tel­cos were com­pelling Nige­rian sub­scribers to use the ser­vice by de­fault.

Ac­cord­ing to him, it was wor­ri­some and to­tally un­ac­cept­able that sub­scribers were in­cur­ring fi­nan­cial charges for a ser­vice they were com­pelled to use.

The min­is­ter had equally di­rected the Ncc to com­pel the tel­cos to stop “il­le­gal de­duc­tion” of sub­scribers’ data, and re­duce the cost of data in the coun­try.

The tel­cos had de­nied re­ports that they were en­gag­ing in il­le­gal de­duc­tions, ar­gu­ing that up­dates, down­loads and some other ac­tiv­i­ties on smart­phones were re­spon­si­ble for un­ac­counted de­ple­tion of data.

Speak­ing with our cor­re­spon­dent, Ade­bayo in­sisted that the tel­cos were not guilty of il­le­gal de­duc­tions, as al­leged by the min­is­ter.

“There are no such things as il­le­gal de­duc­tion by any op­er­a­tor,” he said.

in re­sponse to the or­der to slash the cost of data, the tel­cos had ar­gued that the price of data was de­ter­mined by mar­ket forces, in­clud­ing cost of oper­a­tions.

Asked whether the Ncc had asked the op­er­a­tors to re­duce the cost of data, Ade­bayo said, “There are reg­u­la­tory pro­ce­dures and frame­work for price vari­a­tion and we will con­tinue to com­ply will all such pro­vi­sions as may be di­rected by the Ncc, our reg­u­la­tor, from time to time.”

Ade­bayo, in the same vein, out­lined the tel­cos’ de­mands on the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment in the New Year.

Top on the list of de­mands was the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture as crit­i­cal na­tional in­fra­struc­ture, a de­vel­op­ment which would en­sure that the fa­cil­i­ties are pro­tected by the gov­ern­ment as na­tional as­sets.

“We want the gov­ern­ment to clas­sify telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture as crit­i­cal

Na­tional in­fra­struc­ture and ac­cord tele­com cell sites, fi­bre op­tics ca­bles and all sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture the same level of pro­tec­tion be­ing pro­vided for crit­i­cal econ­omy in­fra­struc­ture such as the oil pipe­lines and rail­way tracks,” Ade­bayo said.

Pan­tami had re­cently dis­closed that the gov­ern­ment was work­ing on an ex­ec­u­tive or­der which would des­ig­nate tele­coms in­fra­struc­ture as cni.

other is­sues AL­TON is ask­ing the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to re­solve in­clude “mul­ti­ple tax­a­tion and mul­ti­ple reg­u­la­tion” of tele­com ser­vices.

AL­TON had called for the amend­ment of Tax or­der of 2015 to re­duce mul­ti­ple tax­a­tion.

Apart from the statu­tory taxes levied on op­er­a­tors, tel­cos pay An­nual op­er­at­ing levy of cer­tain per­cent­age of earn­ings to the Ncc and are also charged var­i­ous rates by some other agen­cies of the fed­eral, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

“il­le­gal clo­sure of tele­com sites in the name of tax and rev­enue col­lec­tion is an aber­ra­tion that must be met with se­vere sanc­tions,” Ade­bayo added.

The AL­TON chair­man urged the com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter, en­sure that all the stake­hold­ers in the sec­tor work to­gether to move the in­dus­try for­ward.

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