Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Operators blame NITEL over poor services

Cover of the week:

Following the strike embarked upon by employees of the first national carrier, the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and its mobile subsidiary, the Mobile Telecommunications Limited (M-Tel) many telecom subscribers are now experiencing hell on earth to get a call go through let alone data access.

This is coming as most telecom operators are now using the strike by NITEL officials as an excuse for increased poor quality of service (QoS), even those that have been experiencing bad services on their platform before the industrial action commenced.

Many of the subscribers who spoke to Champion Infotel complained of unsuccessful call attempts and increase in call-drops, just as operators have commenced actions in order to get alternative points to salvage poor quality of service that came to the fore as a result of the strike, mostly those on NITEL switches.

A lot of Short Messaging Services (SMS) have been sent to subscribers since last week when the strike began.

One of the SMS’ came from Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) Starcomms and Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) read, “Dear Customer, due to ongoing NITEL strike, you may experience degradation in internet services. We regret any inconvenience caused.”

Also, another operator sent out this SMS; “Dear Customer, we are aware that service is currently unavailable for some customers. Resolution is on-going. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Equally, it was gathered that most licensed telecom operators in the land learnt a their lessons during a similar strike by members of NITEL staff in 2006 to protest the sale of NITEL to its current majority stake owners, the Transnational Corporation (Transcorp), among others under the guise of a ‘preferred bidder,’ while in the actual sense it was not opened for bidders but closed at the presidency under Olusegun Obasanjo.

Reacting to the situation, apex telecom regulator in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) decried the state of affairs within the telecom sector and owing precisely to the strike.

NCC in a press statement endorsed by the Head, Public Affairs, Sir Dave Imoko expressed concern over the on-going strike embarked upon by employees of the first national carrier.

It would be recalled that staffers of both subsidiaries - NITEL and MTel, owned by Transnational Corporation (TRANSCORP) embarked on strike due to alleged inability of Transcorp to live up to the recent agreement reached on April 1, this year, with the mandate to settle all arrears within two weeks.

While reacting to the strike, Transcorp claimed it had paid money to offset the outstanding salaries of NITEL and MTel staff and described their actions as provocative.

The commission, however, noted with dismay that the current strike has resulted in shutting down of the NITEL’s network, inferring that the telco is the first national carrier in the country with licenses spanning provision of landline services to many government agencies and major corporate organizations nationwide.

NCC pointed out that, through the SAT-3 cable infrastructure, for instance, NITEL provides a major international link from Nigeria to the outside world.

Stressing that as a result of workers’ strike, subscribers who rely on NITEL’s fixed lines, which is less than 500,000, would now resort to patronizing other service providers, thus increasing the congestion on those networks.

Additionally, he said, that the disruption in the SAT-3 cable infrastructure would force many subscribers from various networks in the country to engage in several fruitless attempts to achieve international destinations.

NCC said, “These have the combined effect of adding to the frustrations of subscribers as well as promoting network congestion,” adding that telecom subscribers in the country should be aware of this development while expressing the hope that the problem between NITEL workers and their management will be resolved as soon as possible.

Also reacting to the strike by NITEL staff, ALTON through its chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo that its undisputable whether the strike affected ALTON members.

As said by him, the strike affected operators mostly those who have interconnection solely on NITEL carrier switched in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja with attendant loss of revenue and concern.

He emphasised though that most core operators have developed alternative interconnect point to NITEL, insisting that the case of NITEL is an embarrassment to all stakeholders, and Transcorp in particular.

Meanwhile, Transcorp maintained that it lived up to the deal, NITEL workers also stood on their ground that their demand of full payment of arrears be paid in full.

Transcorp spokesman and Vice President, Corporate Relations, Mr. Adedayo Ojo, in his response via a press statement, said the industrial action by NITEL was “provocative, illegal and irresponsible.”

Ojo also said Transcorp has fulfilled the terms of agreement reached with employees over fortnight ago.

In pursuant to the said agreement, Transcorp said, it fulfilled all obligations as at Monday, April 14, 2008 by paying the December 2007 salary into NITEL’s account.

“To our shock, embarrassment and despite the payment of over N500 Million, the employees proceeded to blockade the SAT-3 facility, which is Nigeria international telephony gateway,” he asserted, stressing that this action was not only a negation of the agreement by the workers representatives, but also a shame to the country in view of the national security implications.

“The employees action is all the more regrettable as the decision to pay the aforesaid was generally unpopular given that NITEL has been unable to generate enough revenue to pay salaries,” part of the statement read.

He urged all well meaning Nigerians and stakeholders in the telecommunications sector to ask the employees representatives for the real motives behind the current strike especially since Transcorp has fulfilled its obligations.

Similarly, chairman, National Association of Telecommunication Employees of Nigeria, Mr. Charles Amankwe, was reportedly saying last weekend that Transcorp only paid November salary as at Monday, April 14, 2008, which negates the agreement.

“They only paid it about some minutes to four [in the evening] when we had issued a statement to shut down transmission and what they paid in was just November salary and we are rejecting it,” he said.

Amankwe further said that the Abuja Territorial Manager of NITEL, Mr. J.F. Okeneye, was Tuesday last week arrested by security operatives in an effort to forestall plans to shut down transmission lines.

Noting that NITEL staff would only go back to work if Transcorp fulfilled its promises, even as the employees last Tuesday succeeded in shutting down services at its headquarters in Abuja.

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