The ‘Do not disturb’ or DND policy was introduced by the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, a couple of years ago to address an irritant in the sector. Subscribers were tired of getting unsolicited SMS and calls from third parties. Sometimes these calls and SMS were the first stages of complicated frauds.
It was with relief that the public welcomed the introduction of DND. But like anything good in Nigeria that would favor the masses, it took a while before the networks agreed to implement it. They gave several excuses to delay the introduction of the DND policy.
Though they claimed technical challenges were the main reasons behind the delay, everybody knew it was because the policy affected the money they made from SMS marketers.
Billions of naira was lost by the networks after the introduction of the DND policy. It was the right thing to do though.
However, two years later, millions of subscribers are still getting unsolicited SMS and calls. These include those who have enabled DND on their phones.
It seems the networks are reluctant to fully implement the policy. This is rather unfortunate because it shows a lack of respect for the government and its agents. Is it that the networks know how toothless the NCC is when it comes to enforcing rules and regulations? Or is the regulatory body complicit in the illegal activities of these telecoms company?
The attitude of both the NCC and the telecoms is puzzling if you consider how MTN was dealt with a few years ago.
The government had ordered all telecoms companies to register every mobile line in the country. They were given enough time to make sure no subscriber used an unregistered GSM number.
In the main, most of the telecoms complied. But MTN still had a large number of unregistered active phone numbers. They were given time to regularize the status of these lines. They didn’t comply.
This was in 2015. Back then, the present administration was still trying to show the country a new sheriff was in town. And that means the much talked about ‘change‘ was more than just a slogan. The government came down hard on MTN Nigeria with a fine of ₦1.3 trillion Nigeria.
That fine shook the whole country and left several people, especially staff of MTN, reeling in shock. Many top managers in MTN lost their jobs after the company understood the government was determined to collect the money and would not be silenced by a token bribe as is common in Nigeria.
Finally, after negotiations and pleadings, the fine was reduced to ₦300 billion. But the point was made that no company, no matter how big or influential, would get away with flouting the rules any longer.
So what has changed since then that the telecoms are disobeying the NCC over the DND policy? It is hard to put a finger on it. But the perception among Nigerians is that the initial momentum in enforcing the change mantra died a long time ago.
Even the pronouncement by the NCC that it is going to fine telecoms companies ₦500k when a case of flouting the DND policy is reported and proven was greeted with derision by the public.
As reported by Nigeria News, this policy statement was made at the 83rd edition of the Telecom Consumer Parliament in Lagos about 3 weeks ago by Mr. Philip Eretan, the Deputy Director, Licensing and Authorization, at the NCC.
In the first place, that figure is too small to be taken seriously. While he was talking about the fine, the networks were making millions of naira flouting the DND policy. 500k wouldn’t make them sit up and face up to their responsibilities.
In the second place, who gets to collect the 500k? Is it the subscriber who was harassed by unsolicited calls and SMS or the NCC?
That fine would only make sense if subscribers are the ones compensated with that amount of money. That would encourage others to report cases to the NCC and at the same time make engagement between the regulator and the public easier.
Think about it, a reward of 500k to any subscriber for reporting any erring network would get a swift response from millions of suffering Nigerians. By the time the telecoms start paying up, that ₦300 billion MTN fine would begin to look like child’s play.
It is not doom and gloom for everybody though. For instance, when I did the DND, it worked on all my lines. I don’t get all those useless SMS or calls again. Many people I know have the same story to tell.
That is not saying the people crying foul must have done something wrong. In my experience, I have learned never to underestimate the capacity of the telecoms company to exploit subscribers.