EVEN though the four operators of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks — MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat — have paid the N1.17 billion fine imposed on them by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for poor quality of service, the telecom regulator, at the weekend, explained that the money would go into government coffers.
It would be recalled that the NCC had, on May 11, 2012, slammed N1.17 billion fine on the four telecom service providers, out of which MTN and Etisalat were fined N360 million each, Airtel N270 million, while Globacom was fined the sum of N180 million.
The Commission gave the operators up to 25th May, 2012 to pay the fine and warned that after the deadline, operators would pay N2.5 million daily as default long as the contravention persists.
However, after several meetings and lobbying by the service providers to get NCC rescind the sanction failed, the operators on 20th June, 2012,paid only the actual fine of N1.17 billion, leaving out the accumulated daily fine which stood at N260 million for 26 days running.
In an interview with The Guardian in Abuja, Director Public Affairs of the NCC, Tony Ojobo, said that the commission could not spend any kobo out of the money, except it is appropriated by the National Assembly.
He observed that NCC, as an agency of government, could not spend any fund not appropriated by the National Assembly as it becomes an extra budgetary spending.
Ojobo noted that the fine was as a result of the poor quality of service after a holistic assessment of the networks and not about individual consumer experience adding that it is expected to serve as a deterrent
On why the money was paid to the Commission instead of subscribers who bore the brunt of the poor quality of service, Ojobo said, “If you share the N1.7 billion to about 99 million GSM subscribers in the country, each subscriber will get less than N10.00 (Ten Naira) and what can N10.00 airtime do for them, how many minutes calls can they make with N10.00 airtime? Should we mortgage the quality of service for just N10.00”.
“If the operators were asked to use that money to compensate the subscribers, it will not serve as deterrent because they will not feel since they cant give physical cash but airtime but it is more heavy to remove N360million from their account. The question is how do NCC as a regulator monitor to know whether all the subscribers were compensated?
There is that tendency that some subscribers may not get the compensation and there is no way the commission will know, that is why we believe that the best way to motivate them to provide good quality service is by this kind of sanctions”, he added.
On whether the commission would come up with more sanctions since the quality of service has not yet improved, Ojobo said that the telecom operators had requested that the commission give them more time to enable put in place additional infrastructure adding that they complained of the long period it takes to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) and get approval for deploying infrastructures such as Base Transceiver Station (BTS), Right of Way (RoW) for laying fibre optic cables and multiple taxations from different agencies of government among others.
He assured that the Commission would not rest on its oars, as it conducts dry test on all the networks every month to measure the quality of service and every three months, checks the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to see whether there is a progressive improvement in the quality of service .
When The Guardian inquired why the operators failed to pay the daily N2.5million default fee, which has accumulated to about N260million for the 26 days after the expiration of the deadline as stipulated by the NCC guideline on Quality of service, another source very close to the Commission disclosed that two days before the expiration of the deadline, the operators made a presentation to the commission that for now, the KPI of the commission is not realisable given the present operating environment and requested for a graduated KPI till March 2013.
The source noted that the commission accepted the presentation made by the operators adding that the KPI has been reviewed in the sense that the quality of service will now be assessed on step by step incremental basis till March 2013 when the operators are expected to get to the level of benchmark used for the present penalty.
“It is not as if they refused to pay the penalty. Two days before the May 25 deadline, they came up with a proposal of a reviewed KPI and sought for consideration of the new KPI but NCC refused to give them audience at the initial stage.
However, the Commission, after reviewing their proposal accepted it having seen it may be difficult for the operators to meet up with NCC’s KPI in a foreseeable future considering the long period it takes to conduct an EIA and build a base station. The intention of the NCC is not to make money from operators but to ensure good quality of service.
With the new KPI, they have also put themselves in a corner because it means that since they were the ones that proposed it, they must meet up with it.
A senior official of one of the major GSM operators, in an email exchange on Friday, said “slamming fines on operators may not be the best way out of the poor quality service that the operators are accused of.
“We believe that the regulator should push for the government to provide the necessary operational infrastructure, create and sustain an enabling environment for the operators.
“How can the quality service thrive in a situation where the operators are saddled with the challenges of servicing the two power generating sets at each BTS; how can they access the sites where they are forcibly locked up by either a parallel agency, or state/local government officials over imposed levies, or community people, or area boys, or other miscreants that have become serious security threats to lives of staff and property?
“Worst implication of the fine is that wrong signals are being sent to potential investors in the country. We may inadvertently be telling them what they should expect when they invest in Nigeria.
“As the industry group has said, we plead with the subscribers to bear with us and we are working assiduously to improve the service quality and deliver value for their money. Operators are not happy when the network is down, because it also affects our bottom-line. So, we shall continue to dialogue with the relevant government agencies to ensure that all the challenges facing the operation of telecoms in Nigeria are resolved. It may take time but it is achievable.”
The Guardian had exclusively reported that the rift between the operators and the NCC had deepened over the latter’s refusal to accede to their request to rescind its decision on the fine.
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