– Lawmakers summon minister, NCC boss, others
NIGERIAN Communications Commission, NCC, has halted its plan to increase of data tariff. This followed Senate’s intervention yesterday directing the Commission to halt with immediate
effect, the hike directive given to providers this week. The upper chamber also summoned the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, NCC executive vice chairman/ chief executive, Umar Danbatta, service providers and other relevant stakeholders in the telecommunications sector over the matter. It also resolved to commence comprehensive investigations into allegations of failure by the service providers through its Committee on Communications which is to report back within one week. This followed a motion of urgent national importance moved by Deputy Senate Leader Bala Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South), who condemned the planned data tariff hike, saying it would cause serious hardship on ordinary Nigerians. The vice chairman of the committee, Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos West) said the policy was not only “unholy but also unfriendly. We are up to the task, and I can assure the Senate that we will swing into action immediately. We will invite all the necessary agencies that are involved in this policy that is unholy and unfriendly and get back to the Senate unfailingly on Tuesday.” Speaking on the motion, Senate President Bukola Saraki criticised the Commission for not doing enough consultation before initiating the policy and therefore, asked the committee to investigate allegations of non-compliance to regulations against mobile operators. NCC had directed mobile operators to initiate a new data tariff regime from December 1, 2016. In a letter to mobile operators dated November 1, the regulator stated that the interim floor price for data services was 0.90k/ MB for big operators, and that “this rate will subsist pending the finalisation of the study on the determination of cost based pricing for retail broadband and data services in Nigeria. “In order to provide a level playing field for all operators in the industry, small operators and new entrants to acquire market share and operate profitably small operators and new entrants are hereby exempted for the price floor for data services,” it said. “For the avoidance of doubt, a small operator is one that has less than 7.5 percent market share and a new entrant is an operator that has operated less than three years in the market. “All operators are to ensure that subscribers are not automatically migrated to payas-you-go platform. Also, note that effective date for the interim price floor is December 1, 2016.” FG never authorised Commission to raise data tariff An online newspaper, TheCable, in its report said that Shittu said there was never a time the government gave the NCC permission to increase data tariff. But speaking on Raypower’s programme, Fact File, yesterday, Shittu said “logistics” might have informed NCC’s decision. “There are reasons for what they have done. The reasons, I’m sure, will not be political; the reason will be more of logistics and all of that and as you have requested me to do I will do that,” Shittu said. “But I want to say that I was not privy to it; I was not party to it. Government never gave any such instruction and the government, as the representative of the people, have never done that; the voice of Nigerians must not be muscled. “This government came into the democratic process and it has a duty to continue to protect the interest of Nigerians and I can assure you, we will do that and we will do the needful in protecting the rights and privileges of Nigerians.” When asked why there were still no sanctions on telecom operators sending unsolicited text messages, the minister said he was also a victim of it. “About six months ago I had cause to invite all the telecom operators and virtually read the riot act to them. If that has not been done I can assure you it will be done. We are concerned about the interest of Nigerians. “We are concerned that Nigerians should not be taken for a ride. As the minister of communications, I’m also a victim just like every other Nigerian. I also suffer the same fate from telecom operators; so let me assure you that we will redouble our efforts to curtail the excesses of the telecom operators,” he said. NCC in a statement by its director of Public Affairs, Mr Tony Ojobo, yesterday, however said that it had suspended any further action on the increase of data. Ojobo said “following the concerns that visited the directive to introduce price floor for data segment of the telecommunications sector beginning from December 1, the NCC had suspended any further action in that direction.” He said that the decision to suspend this directive was taken after due consultation with industry stakeholders and the general complaints by consumers across the country. He said that the Commission had weighed all of this and consequently asked all operators to maintain the status quo until the conclusion of study to determine retail prices for broadband and data services in Nigeria. Ojobo recalled in the statement that the Commission wrote to the Mobile Network Operators, MNOs, on November 1, 2016, on the determination of an interim price floor for data services after the stakeholders’ consultative meeting of October 19, this year. “The decision to have a price floor was primarily to promote a level playing field for all operators in the industry, encourage small operators and new entrants. “The price floor in 2014 was N3.11k/MB but was removed in 2015. The price floor that was supposed to flag off on December was N0.90k/MB. “In taking that decision, the smaller operators were exempted from the new price regime, by virtue of their small market share. “The decision on the price floor was taken in order to protect the consumers who are at the receiving end and save the smaller operators from predatory services that are likely to suffocate them and push them into extinction.” He added that the price floor was not an increase in price but a regulatory safeguard put in place by the telecommunications regulator to check anti-competitive practices by dominant operators. He said that this statement clarified the insinuation in some quarters that the regulator had fixed prices for data services. “This is not true because the NCC does not fix prices but provides regulatory guidelines to protect the consumers deepen investments and safeguard the industry from imminent collapse.” The NCC director of Public Affairs said that before the new suspended price floor of N0.90k/MB, the industry average for dominant operators, including MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, EMTS Limited (Etisalat) and Airtel Nigeria Limited, was N0.53k/MB, adding that Etisalat offered (N0.94k/MB), Airtel (N0.52k/MB), MTN (N0.45k/ MB) and Globacom (N0.21k/ MB). He explained that the smaller operators/new entrants charged the following: Smile Communications -N0.84k/MB, Spectra net -N0.58k/MB and NATCOMS (NTEL) -N0.72k/ MB. He added that the NCC as a responsive agency of government took into consideration the feelings of the consumers and so decided to suspend the new price floor. A News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reports also stated that the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers, NATCOMS, yesterday joined voices in denouncing the planned NCC data tariff increase as insensitive. NATCOMS president, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo said that the percentage of the increment was not disclosed yet but might be doubled. “We view the directive as insensitive and callous. Since NCC is an agency of the federal government, the purported directive is one more design by the government to cast more financial burden on the already depressed citizenry. “The Communications Service Tax Bill, which proposes to impose a monthly Communication Service Tax of nine per cent on all electronic communication services, which include voice calls, SMS, MMS and data usage is still before the National Assembly. “There has been a lot of hue and cry against the bill by the citizens. The NCC directive is therefore nothing but a huge effort aimed at enforcing the obnoxious provisions of the bill through the back door. “The inimical directive, if implemented has grave and far reaching consequences as the gains of telecommunication revolution we have made so far will be eroded,” he said. According to him, the policy desire to attain 30 percent broadband penetration by 2018 will no longer be attainable, with a high prospect of rolling back the current 13 percent broadband access via mobile. He said that those businesses that relied on data and internet connectivity to offer their services would go underground and their promoters would return to the labour market, thereby compounding the unemployment situation in the country. Ogunbanjo said that since the data tariff increment was just a prelude (testing the water) to voice calls tariff increment, telecommunications services would now be limited to the rich. “And the poor, who constitute about 90 per cent of the population, will be denied access. This is a retreat to pre -2001 era. “Within the current suffocating economic situation in the country where prices of goods and services go up every day and thereby undermining the people’s standard of living, the directive is just a mirror of an inconsiderate policy maker. “NCC did not do duediligence and did not carry out any consultation whatsoever, through any of their consumers engagement platforms, like the NCC Telecoms Consumer Parliament, the NCC Consumer Outreach-Programme and the NCC Consumer Town Hall Meeting before this insensitive anti-consumer policy,” he said.
The NATCOMS president said that MTN and Etisalat had already sent out millions of text messages to its subscribers informing them of the NCC data increase directive. According to him, data or internet availability means more youths engagements because they use data to develop applications and build software. “With what the NCC has done, these young minds, who develop apps will be slowed down and be limited. Data/ Internet Service is the ‘petrol’ of all electronic driven businesses, which means that the cost of doing business will also increase. “The directive is ill-advised, illegal and parades all features of economic adversity and should be withdrawn forthwith,” he noted.