How telcos fleece subscribers with illegal deductions, unsolicited messages
By Olabisi Olaleye
Much as Nigerians are comfortably expressing themselves through the Global System for Mobile communication (GSM), illegal depletion of data bundles and deduction of recharged credits are fast eroding that comfort zone.
Almost all subscribers across the country have one complaint or another over these fraudulent deductions by the telcos and they never cease to lament that when GSM came into the country in 2001, there was no inkling that they would be fleeced to the marrow.
GSM is a digital mobile telephony system widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. GSM uses a variation of Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and is the most widely used of the three digital wireless telephony technologies (TDMA, GSM, and CDMA).
With the current subscriber base of these operators rising each day with MTN Nigeria at 61 million; Globacom, 37.1 million; Airtel, 34.8 million and Etisalat Nigeria at 20 million, so also is the underhand tactics of shortchanging subscribers.
From the estimation of Daily Sun, with N100 daily deductions, MTN would have smiled to the bank with N6.1 billion in one day, N1.8 trillion monthly, while Glo would have done same with N3.7 billion in one day and also N111.3 billion monthly.
Etisalat Nigeria would have also been smiling to the bank with N200 million daily and N6 trillion on monthly basis, while Airtel would have carted away N3.5 billion daily and N105 billion on monthly basis.
With burning anger in their minds, some subscribers of the networks alleged that the service providers are in agreement to over-milk their subscribers.
According to an angry subscriber, Paul Sampson, his MTN is often loaded with N10,000 airtime but this would be deplete under two days without any data subscription. “I have sent the ‘Do not disturb’ code severally but nothing changed and that alone is an issue,” he fumed.
Another subscriber, Dan Ugo, a Globacom subscriber, also alleged that his recharged credit seems to be disappearing within hours. “It has been on for a while but I just felt that my kids were probably using my phone to call their friends. But since these teenagers are not currently in the country, so how come my credit is evaporating at the wink of an eye?”
On his part, Mr. Paul Onomuakpokpo, MTN has fleeced him not just once but severally. Said he: “An unsolicited message was sent to my phone that my name will feature in a draw for N10,000,000 and N100 and N200 were deducted from my credit The second day, I had to send Stop to 38427 to opt out even when I never subscribed to it.
“The response was that ‘you have successfully unsubscribed from the VIP class’ but from the third to the fifth days, MTN continued the deduction again. And I have made several attempts to unsubscribe without any success.”
Similarly, an Airtel subscriber, Patricia Emem, said her grouse is that her data bundle gets depleted at every subscription. She said she was aware that it’s possible for a data bundle to be exhausted before the 30-day expiration but when it disappears under one week, then it calls for concern and caution.
For Chinyere Ago, an Etisalat subscriber, she became a loyal subscriber owing to the quality of its data bundle but unfortunately, these days, so many messages she didn’t subscribe to keep floading her phone even after sending the stop code, have become nightmare.
“You can imagine, loading credit on your phone every other day and discovering that it has disappeared even before you can finish saying hello. It is quite annoying. I learnt all the networks are culpable. I don’t know what their regulator, Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), is doing in this regard.”
However, the National Co-ordinator of Wireless Application Service Providers Association (WASPAN), Chijioke Ezeh, explained that what subscribers consider as unsolicited mails are bulk messages from the networks and as long as they are on the networks, irrespective of which of them, these bulk messages are from authorised channels where networks can reach their subscribers.
“And as long as subscribers have mobile banking or online retail apps on their phones, they will always get such messages because they are authorised. But if the messages are asking to be subscribed to, that is quite rare because there is a fine imposed on that as well as the ‘Do not disturb ‘ code to 2442.
“Whoever has an issue should get on 2442 because the fines are heavy if contravened.”
For data, Ezeh further explained that Value Added Service (VAS) operators have little or nothing to do with data depletion.
“VAS operators have virtually nothing to do with data because we do not control that aspect. We route services through the networks, we do not control data or consume data. Whoever is experiencing that has subscribed to services without knowing or even set his phone to update automatically. The challenge is that it will be eating into the data. Most people have lots of games and other apps; they should go back to setting. Whoever has such app running on their mobile phone may experience data depletion or consumption. It has nothing to do with the VAS companies.”
He, however, disclosed that when people don’t have much apps and are still experiencing data depletion, then it is a breach from the networks, adding that customers should report to the customer care unit because they also have records and if there is no legitimate consumption, such data may be restored.
On his part, Head Public Relations,Consumers Protection Council (CPC), Abiodun Obimuyiwa explained to Daily Sun that though he was just hearing the issue for the first time but would still make enquiries into the issues.
Said he: “I am just getting this information about depletion on recharged units but will find out from our complaints section.But if actually, it is happening, subscribers should talk to Consumer protection council. Don’t forget that the Minister of Communications, Barr Adebayo Shittu gave his personal account on how he was short changed in the sum of N200 of every N1000 loaded, so, I won’t be surprised if Nigerians are going through it. Actually is an abuse of consumer right, which is fradulent and not acceptable to us.
“One thing, we should also do as consumers is to monitor units and know how much is left because consumers are the best protector of their rights. Though, monitoring the units may be cumbersome. Sometimes, one may be on a high tariff without knowing but with monitoring one would be active to know which is. However, if the complaints are true, they are abuse of consumers right.
Commenting on this issue, Director, Public Affairs of the NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said affected subscribers should escalate the issue to the 622 platform if the complaints are genuine, and the commission would take it up and sanction such network operator.
“The consumers’ parliament is also another avenue to make public their complaints. Many complaints like that have been addressed and sorted out at such platforms; even a customer got compensation to the tune of N2 million. If the complaints are genuine, there is no problem because we have also discovered that some subscribers are not truthful when the analytical reports on their lines are presented.
“Have they reported the case to their network providers? Or even sent stop to 2442? If all these are yes, then they should escalate the issue to 622 for further action. However, NCC will not revoke their licences because of that reason. The business environment has not changed, there is no steady power supply, among other things, so we should also look at their efforts in providing better quality of service.
“Most subscribers who use smart phones don’t know that automatic updates are not free; once the subscription is exhausted, it eats into the recharged units and they will complain of data and recharged units depletion. The commission has found out on several occasions that subscribers always exhaust their units or subscribe unknowingly to a platform.
“One thing I know is that NCC will sanction where appropriate when the findings prove that the network operators are culpable.”
Meanwhile, industry critics have said that with the recent publication by the NCC on impact of recession on brand loyalty shows that subscribers appear not quite happy with their service providers and that is why the internet space and subscription shrunk in February.
According to the latest report, telecommunications networks lost about 1,275,573 internet users in February, with MTN losing 714,700 subscribers, the highest in the industry.
The publication indicated that internet users on both GSM and CDMA networks dropped from 91,304,755 in January to 90,029,182 in February. It also showed that of the 90,029,182 internet users in February, 89,998,873 were on GSM networks, while 30,309 were on CDMA networks. Further analysis also showed that GSM service providers lost 1,275,573 internet customers as they recorded 89,998,873 users in February as against 91,274,446 they had in January. The CDMA operators retained 30,309 internet subscribers in February as recorded in January.
The data also revealed that MTN had 30,300,705 subscribers browsing the internet on its network in the month under review but recorded a drop of 714,700 internet subscribers in February after recording 31,015,405 in January.
According to the data, Globacom had 26,932,485 customers surfing the net on its network in February, revealing a decline of 143,787 users from the 27,076,272 who surfed the internet on the network in January.
Airtel had 19,468,684 internet users in February, reducing by 149,801, the number of customers in its January record of 19,618,485.
The data also showed that Etisalat had 13,296,999 customers who browsed the internet in February. It recorded a decrease of 267,285 users from the 13,564,284 users it recorded in January.
The NCC data revealed that the CDMA operators, Multi-Links and Visafone, had a joint total of 30,309 internet users on their networks in February, maintaining their January record.
According to the data, Visafone had 30,305 customers surfing the internet in February, while Multi-Links had four.
Meanwhile, a source in Globacom explained that it would be vague to say that their subscribers are complaining of recharge depletion without the complaints being be backed by a list of affected numbers.
“If actually there are complaints, the numbers have to be accessed in order to identify what the problem was to have warranted such,” he said.