Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nigeria - consumer protection

At telecom stakeholders forum, NCC sets parameters for consumer rights protection

EXECUTIVE Vice Chairman, Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, has reaffirmed the agency’s resolve to protect consumers right, stated that there would soon be put in place a merit awards instituted in the country to deserving operators and service providers, who have distinguished themselves in delighting and creatively managing the expectations and needs of consumers.

Mr. Ndukwe who spoke at the 3rd Stakeholders Forum, (a collaboration between the NCC and IT & Telecom Digest magazine) in Lagos last Monday said “consumers of telecommunications products and services in Nigeria today are varied and their tastes, needs and expectations are also varied. They number over 46 million today and are spread across the vast geographical area of the country, and have become more aware of the usefulness and potentials of ICT products and services.”

According to him, “consumers of telecom services in Nigeria are no longer the few who were endowed with the economic power to own a phone in those days when only very few Nigerians could afford the few lines that were available. The reasons of inability to own a phone is no longer much about inability to afford a phone because of very high cost or that locations of business or residence are not covered by any telephone network as, apart from very remote areas, most urban and semi-urban parts of the country is covered today.”

Mr. Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande, Minister of State for Information & Communications who presented keynote address at the forum and chairman the occasion traced the country’s telecom ‘metamorphosis from the dregs of telecommunications development to a world leader”, noting that the story is one that cannot be over told.

“It is important to state it often and often again that where we were before now was not pleasant, to say the least. And that we have been able to move away from that ignoble past to this present success is worthy of commendation,” said Nakande.

Describing the growth of the industry in the past eight years as phenomena, the Minister stated that from a little above 400, 000 subscriber base in 2001, Nigeria’s telecom industry has grown to become the beacon in Africa. Recent figures released by the NCC show the country’s teledensity stands at 32.8 per cent, a sharp rise from the mere 0.4 per cent in 2001. The NCC’s figures also show the country’s active subscriber base rising to 46 million as at May 2008.

Applauding the significant growth of the industry, Mr. Nakande stated that “to compare this with where the country was prior to 2001 is a thing to cheer about. Needless to say that the country has made astronomical leaps in both numbers and infrastructure development; leading to about $12 billion worth of foreign direct investment, (FDI) from the private sector investors alone since 2001. Before now, investment in the sector barely scratched $50 million.”

The minister charged the operators to treat consumers as “kings” because they drive the industry growth to its present level.

“Protecting the consumer is our collective concern. Satisfyig the yearnings of the consumer should be the reason for our being in business. Indeed, we cannot be in business without the patronage of the consumer.”

The place of consumer Highlighting the place of the consumer within the telecom landscape, Mr. Ndukwe stated that the “consumers of telecom products and services, as we have indicated have many desires expected to be met. He wants services available at all times and at every place. The consumer wants the services to be of a good quality and affordable. The consumer wants the operator to respond at all times when he or she needs attention, and to provide explanations whenever anything goes wrong.

The consumer wants to be protected at all times from being taken advantage of by service providers. Just like consumers of and any services, the consumer of telecom services wants to be well treated. The Commission has recognised this and has put in place special structures to ensure that the needs and desires of the consumer are taken care of.”

According to Ndukwe, the “Commission does not just theories about empowering the consumer in industry, it has given practical expressions to this phenomenon through actions, policies and programmes which have venerated, empowered, protected and uplifted him/her in the comity of stakeholders in the industry. Prior to the enactment of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, the Commission had in September 2001 established a full fledged department called Consumer Affairs Bureau. The Bureau was charged with PIE mandate — to Protect, Inform and Educate the Nigerian telecom consumers.

“This mandate has remained an irrevocable social contract between the Commission and telecom consumers in our nation. In a bid to protect, inform and educate consumers, the Commission held its maiden Consumer Forum in April 2002 and shortly after in August 2003, launched the monthly Telecom Consumer Parliament, a novel regulatory initiative that earned the Commission, nay Nigeria, commendations from ITU and ICT professionals and groups across the globe.

“At the last count, 46 sessions of Telecom Consumer Parliament has helped in no small measure in creating awareness of the rights of consumers and the obligations of the service providers in the resolution of problems and concerns.”

Nigeria also established the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) to provide incentives to operators to extend services to much of the unserved rural communities. Mr. Ndukwe stated that the NCC has taken the issue of quality of services to new heights by defining acceptable QoS thresholds which “operators are expected to meet on the one hand, as well as sanctions in event of failure to meet those thresholds.”

“In order to ensure compliance by operators, regular monitoring by the Commission of the operations of licencees across the length and breath of the country is undertaken. Periodic reports on these monitoring activities are published on the website of the Commission and in major newspapers,” Ndukwe stated.

He added that to underscore the importance the NCC board placed on issue of QoS on the networks, “an industry QoS Working Group was set up with members drawn from the public and private sectors of the economy.”

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