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Tariff matters and where the consumers stand

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By Sonny Aragba-Akpore

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) probably has more powers than it is aware of  but may not have sufficiently understood them .

Otherwise how does one explain a position it took on  what it considered a positive decision on the the proposal of Mobile Network Operators ( MNOs)  but before the operators could settle down,the NCC in a dilly dally process ostensibly remembered it had a board and pushed its decision  to its board to take.

Strangely ,this board is willy nillly tied to the apron strings of a Super Minister who could upturn a Presidential position.

And so the NCC  statement announcing the reversal of its own decision was okay but ended up idolizing the Minister.

To observers and those familiar with the workings of the NCC,”this is an own goal “ and the commission should brace up for the consequences of its actions and inaction.

If the new position for the reversal of the tariffs may be applauded by the consumers,because  of the reduction or removal of the 10% hike in data price by two of the operators,it  may not be well or in the interest of the operators and both the regulator and operators may resort to a cat and mouse game and in the process,the consumers suffer.

The operators had proposed and the NCC approved before we are told in a statement in apparent reaction to media criticism that a reversal of the proposed tariff hike was communicated to the Operators on October 12.

The NCC said in the statement last week that:

“Even though the tariff adjustment was proposed and provisionally approved by the Management, pending the final approval of the Board of the Commission, in the end, it did not have the approval of the Board of the Commission. As a result, it is reversed.“The Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, has maintained that his priority is to protect the citizens and ensure justice for all stakeholders involved. As such, anything that will bring more hardship at this critical time will not be accepted.”“This was also why he obtained the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari for the suspension of the proposed 5 per cent excise duty, to maintain a conducive enabling environment for the telecom operators. Much as there is an increase in the cost of production, the provision of telecom services is still very profitable and it is necessary that the subscribers are not subjected to a hike in charges.

“In view of the above, the Commission, through a letter sent on October 12,2022, has already directed the affected Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to reverse the upward tariff adjustment. The Commission will carry out further consultations with all industry stakeholders on the best approaches that will protect and uphold the interest of both the consumers and the service providers,”

But the NCC regulations and extant rules under the Nigerian Communication Act(NCA)2003 are clear about the commission,s mandate except if it has forgotten that also.

Specifically,Consistent with Section 108 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 (NCA 2003), the Commission is responsible for the approval of tariffs and other charges for the provision of service by licensed telecommunications service providers.This it communicated to the operators based on their applications in this regard.

The law says Operators are to submit proposed tariff plans to the NCC  and steps to be taken for the approval of new Tariff Plans or the modification of approved Tariff Plans by operators as established by the Commission.

The Act lists conditions for new tariff requests stating that applicants making a Tariff approval request must be a licencee of the Commission and that

Every Tariff for every Service an Operator offers whether new or modification(s) must be submitted to the Commission for consideration and approval.

Such Tariff Approval Request must comply with any price floors or Caps determined by the Commission

for Operators who offer Voice, data or Value Added Services;

The Act also brings consumers into focus saying there

should be NO automatic renewal of a plan without the customer’s consent.

“At the expiration of a plan the subscriber should be given the option to either opt in to the current plan or subscribe to a new plan.”

The NCC also says that

“there should be NO automatic migration of subscriber’s data service to the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) account upon depletion of the data bundle account except with the express consent and authorization of subscriber via SMS.”

All unused data allowance at the expiration of a data plan should be rolled-over upon subscription of a new plan/ within any specified timeline as determined by the Commission.

“All approved tariffs must be launched within 60days from the date of the conveyance of approval; otherwise such approval would be considered stale and the operator will have to re-apply for consideration.”

That section is clear about operators responsibility.

“Any operator determined as Dominant must maintain all obligations placed on them.”

The commission is expected to monitor the implementation of approved tariff to ensure that it is consistent with the approved business rules, the tariff guideline and NCA Act 2003.

If the NCC communicated for the approval its decision within forty-five (45) working days from the date of receipt by the Commission at what point did it change this position even when the board has no visible responsibility in this regard?

The operators are saying they got approval according to the rules and were shocked to receive a letter of reversal .

The NCC says that  any “Individual Licencee who imposes any Tariff without the Commission’s approval or fails to comply with these conditions as well as Section 108 – 111 of the NCA 2003 and its Licence Conditions with regards to Tariffs will be considered in line with enforcement processes.”

The operators are clear about their plans and followed the modification(s) to the approved Tariff Plan submitted to the Commission for consideration and approval according to the guidelines.

The requests were in tandem with price floors or Caps determined by the Commission as well as condition of new requests.

Although the operators may have reversed the hike but are grim about it considering what they termed high cost of doing business in Nigeria and the global community especially now that a war is raging between Russia and Ukraine.

The operators think that the government should have looked critically at the global crisis and avoid a petty position of assuming that telecom operators are making so much profit without looking deeper into what they (operators) put in to provide such services.

For a regulator to reverse itself is certainly not strange but what is strange is that the regulator may not have had deep thought before granting the tariff approval in the first place.This is one dilemma too many for a regulator that has had high global rating in the past.

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