By Martin Ekpeke
Telecommunications subscribers in Nigeria have decried the regular deduction of their airtime by operators under the guise of offering them Value Added Services (VAS), which in the first place they did not subscribe to.
Value Added Services vary from caller ring back tone, mobile music, mobile advertising, mobile health tips. These services are delivered to the subscribers via the mobile networks with the subscriber paying through their airtime, which is already in custody of the network operators.
Some subscribers, who spoke to ITPulse in Lagos, described the practice as fraudulent and another avenue through which the operators are making huge amount of money through the back door.
According to one of the subscribers, the telecom regulators, NCC seem to be handicapped as several measures initiated to curb the menace appear not to have addressed the challenges, leaving the subscribers at the mercy of the operators.
The subscriber, who introduced himself as a telecom engineer, but wants to remain anonymous, mentioned the Do-Not-Disturb code, which allows subscribers to opt out of receiving any unsolicited messages.
He said, while this initiative has so far been activated by over 11 million subscribers, many who have activated the code are still having the same issue. Meaning, the telecom operators in connivance with the VAS operators are beating the regulator to the game.
Narrating his ordeal in the hand of one of the Mobile Network Operators, he said his airtime was regularly deducted for services he never subscribed to. At a point, he had to visit the operator, where he was promised the service will be disabled, but asked what will happen to his money that has severally been deducted. The response he got, according to him was unsatisfactory and has yet to receive a refund.
“For me, this is one of the setbacks of the telecom industry. An operator continues to deduct money for services you never subscribed to, thereby making huge amount of money. This is unacceptable, I will advise the NCC to do more to protect the subscribers in this regards,” the visibly angry subscribers noted.
Another subscriber, who simply introduced himself as Joe Best said his experience in the hand of the operators is another sad tale of how consumers are not protected from providers by the government.
Joe Best, who sells accessories at the popular Computer Village market in Ikeja, disclosed that he has lost a huge sum of money to the illegal deduction of airtime by the operators. He said he has never subscribed to any other services apart from Internet Data, yet, N50.00 is deducted from his airtime for three different services per week for the past five months.
Asked if he has complained to the telecom operator of the regulator, he said busy schedules have not given him the opportunity to do. “If N150.00 is being deducted illegally from one subscriber, how much do you think an operator with 10 million subscribers can make in a week illegally,” he asked rhetorically.
Many subscribers have at different fora and through the social media platform such Twitter and Facebook engaged the Nigerian Communications Commission, calling for the reformation of the Value Added Services sub-sector of the telecom industry.
Their argument has always been that, while the VAS providers formed an important part of the telecoms ecosystem by ways of providing services that interest the subscribers, they are equally becoming a nuisance to both the subscribers and the regulator.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Communications Commission, regulator of the country’s telecom industry has regularly spoken against forceful deduction of airtime from subscribers for the sake of Value Added Services, saying it is under obligation to protect the subscribers.
In fact, the Commission, who described the unauthorized deduction of airtime from subscribers as illegal in one of the stakeholders’ conference in Lagos recently, took a drastic measure by placing a ban on automatic renewal of all mobile services, including data and VAS subscriptions.
According to reports, the commission had in May this year issued a directive to all network providers to desist from carrying out automatic or unwarranted renewal of data packages without the consent of a subscriber.
The reports noted the penalty for forcefully subscribing consumers in the VAS service without their consent will attract a fine of N5 million for any service provider who defaults the directive. Actions are yet to be seen from that regulatory directive.