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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

NATCOMS calls another switch off protest

For the second time in over four years of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) advent in the country, another call has been made to Nigerians to boycott the use of their GSM on Friday, February 17, this year, by switching off.

This is coming barely three years after a consumer activist group called initial boycott on Friday, September 19, 2003,, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS).

NATCOMS, which is also making this second round of call to switch off mobiles phones said that it would serve as protest against poor service delivery.

In a Short Messaging Service (SMS) made available to ITREALMS Online by the President of NATCOMS, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, which read thus; "Please let's switch off our PHONES again to protest poor service delivery & recent high prices on Friday, February 17, 2006. Please, send to 10 others from NATCOMS".

ITREALMS Online recalls that in 2003 when the first call for switch off, it was reportedly received with mixed feelings, but a good percentage of Nigerian telecom subscribers obeyed by switching off their phones.

Although, there was conflicting credit to which organization called for the initial boycott between unknown "Unofficial Consumer Protection Agency (UCPA)," and NATCOMS, which had ever since remained visible in the advocacy for quality service , especially at the monthly Telecom Consumers Parliament organized by the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

When contacted for clarification, Chief Ogunbanjo said that NATCOMS led switch off protest in 2003, which was precipitated by high tariffs, bad services, Per-Minute Billing (PMB).

Noting that the success of the initial protest has become a common knowledge to all Nigerians, pointing out that GSM was then 2 years old, with only two dominant operators, namely Econet Wireless (Vmobile) and MTN Nigeria with an industry statistics of about five million subscribers.

Currently, he said, there are four GSM operators and a host of Fixed Wireless Operators offering table-tops.

This phenomenal growth, he said, was not reflected in good service delivery, subscriber-friendly products and reasonable tariff structure.

"To say the least, the tariff has been deliberately exploitative and this has been further characterized by poor systems responses, low call set-up of success rate, poor call voice quality, high call failure rate, inaccurate billings, low recharge call success rate and poor staff and customer-care responsiveness," he declared.

Chief Ogunbanjo further said, that NCC, over time, arbitrates and regulates major telecoms issues such as bringing down the GSM interconnecting charges within the operators from N18.00 to N11.52 since the year 2004.

"It is rather unfortunate that the dominant operators with an estimated subscriber base of about 12 to 14 million recently increased tariffs," he asserted.

Stressing, "The increases were done with so much impunity and total disregard, without any prior notification nor information to subscribers".

He cited other countries, saying that notices and reasons for price increases are given to subscribers before any increase in price.

"Subscribers that used to make calls for between N15 to N20 per minute, now make calls for between N25 to N30 per minute. Operators went further to increase the prices of their Booster, Bumpa, Maxplus, Access, Discount Cards to the detriment of the subscriber," he said.

Emphasizing that with almost five years of GSM in Nigeria, having grown from about 500,000 lines in 2001, to over 18,000,000 in 2006.

"Subscribers should by now, be enjoying satisfactory network efficiency where good voice clarity and calls are not interrupted, good operator staff-subscriber-relationship and quick toll-free customer-care service in addition to friendship-centre responses, as well as reasonable and pocket-friendly, " Ogunbanjo said.

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