By Martin Ekpeke
Telecommunication subscribers in Nigeria have called on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to further reform the Value Added Service segment of the telecom industry.
The subscribers, who made the call yesterday at the 83rd Edition of the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP), which was held in Lagos, said the call became necessary due to the avalanche of unsolicited SMS, being sent by the operators that end up draining the pulse of the subscribers.
One of the subscribers, who described himself as Joseph Igbu, a trader, said the activities of the VAS providers have become a challenge for both the subscribers and the regulator, warning that, except reforms are put in place, their activities may end up eroding the integrity the commission has earned over the years.
“A situation where a subscriber is not allowed to opt out of a service he inadvertently subscribed to should be seen and regarded as unethical. That is the situation, most subscribers in Nigeria currently found themselves,” a visibly angered Igbu noted.
Another subscriber, who narrated his ordeal as a result of the activities of the VAS operators, said he continues to loss his airtime daily to the services he cannot remember subscribing to. He said all attempts to reach his operator to resolve what he described as abnormally have failed. “My service provider has continued to deduct my airtime almost on a daily basis. This is despite subscribing to the ‘Do not Disturb’ service being rendered by the NCC,” he said at the forum attended by Executive Commissioners and staff of NCC, Telecom Service Providers, Consumer Advocacy Groups, Collaborating Agencies and Esteemed Telecom Consumers.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Communications Commission has advised that while the VAS segment of the telecom ecosystem needs further reform, subscribers should not completely shut out unsolicited messages from telecoms or VAS operators because such messages offer opportunities, especially those in search of jobs as the platform is a rich source of information for every phone user.
NCC’s new Director, Consumer Affairs, Mrs Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, who gave the advised, also noted that despite its challenges, the VAS segment is a hub for job creation and a huge revenue spinner for the industry. She disclosed that the Nigeria VAS market, which was valued at N72 billion ( $200 million) in 2016, is estimated to grow $500 million over the next five years.
Also, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, in his opening remarks, stated the theme of the programme ‘the theme: Value Added Services and Its Benefits to Consumers,’ is a further recognition of the significant role of VAS in the entire telecom ecosystem.
” Today’s theme, which is Value Added Services (VAS) and its Benefits to Consumers was discussed in Abuja during the 82nd edition of TCP. However, due to low participation of the targeted stakeholders, especially VAS Providers , and in order to underscore the importance of this segment of the telecom market, the Commission decided to engage the industry stakeholders once more on this important subject. There is no doubt that the VAS is adding to the excitement in the telecom market as well as spicing up the consumer quality of experience in the industry,” he emphasized.
He admitted that there are challenges of VAS operators flooding the networks with all kinds of product offering that most consumers may not be interested in, but despite that, the Value Added Service is an important element of the telecom ecosystem necessary for optimizing the benefits of telecom service to the consumers.
According to the former University lecturer, the VAS enables in a very special way, social media and e-commerce activities that might be useful to the consumer while offering a veritable tool for entrepreneurs and businesses in this modern and mobile age of the Internet of Things (IoTs).
Arguing further, Danbatta said, whereas VAS could be very useful and provide services that may interest consumers and assist online and offline entrepreneurs to reach customers, particularly on the mobile markets both to advertise and to sell their products and services.
He, however, noted that with the challenges, the Commission therefore deems it fit to find a balance between enabling the opportunities that the VAS providers offer to some consumers, while at the same time mitigating the challenges or inconvenience they could constitute to other consumers. This, he said the Commission has done by empowering the consumers through the DND facility to choose whether to allow or block access to the VAS services on a full or partial basis.