Telcos defy minister, say voicemail regulation not required

Telecommunications operators in the country have insisted that the voicemail service on mobile telephone lines does not require policy or regulatory intervention from the Federal Government or its agencies.

The assertion by the telcos, under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, followed an order issued by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami.

Pantami had, in November 2019, ordered the deactivation of voicemail services on all existing phone lines in the country.

The minister directed the sector regulator, the Nigeria Communications Commission, to ensure that the service providers complied with the order.

The minister claimed that Mobile Network Operators were using the automatic activation of the voicemail service on their platforms to exploit Nigerians.

About two months since the directive was issued, there is no indication that the telcos complied with the order.

The Chairman of ALTON, Mr Gbenga Adebayo, told our correspondent that the voicemail service was a “basic system feature” that did not require the intervention of the government.

“Voicemail is a value added service offered to all willing subscribers and those who do not want the service can always opt out of voicemail services.

“It is a basic system feature and not one of those services requiring policy or regulatory intervention,” he said.

While ordering the deactivation of the voicemail on mobile phone lines, Pantami had alleged that the telcos were compelling Nigerian subscribers to use the service by default.

According to him, it was worrisome and totally unacceptable that subscribers were incurring financial charges for a service they were compelled to use.

The minister had equally directed the NCC to compel the telcos to stop “illegal deduction” of subscribers’ data, and reduce the cost of data in the country.

The telcos had denied reports that they were engaging in illegal deductions, arguing that updates, downloads and some other activities on smartphones were responsible for unaccounted depletion of data.

Speaking with our correspondent, Adebayo insisted that the telcos were not guilty of illegal deductions, as alleged by the minister.

“There are no such things as illegal deduction by any operator,” he said.

In response to the order to slash the cost of data, the telcos had argued that the price of data was determined by market forces, including cost of operations.

Asked whether the NCC had asked the operators to reduce the cost of data, Adebayo said, “There are regulatory procedures and framework for price variation and we will continue to comply will all such provisions as may be directed by the NCC, our regulator, from time to time.”

Adebayo, in the same vein, outlined the telcos’ demands on the Federal Government in the New Year.

Top on the list of demands was the classification of telecommunications infrastructure as critical national infrastructure, a development which would ensure that the facilities are protected by the government as national assets.

“We want the government to classify telecommunications infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure and accord telecom cell sites, fibre optics cables and all supporting infrastructure the same level of protection being provided for critical economy infrastructure such as the oil pipelines and railway tracks,” Adebayo said.

Pantami had recently disclosed that the government was working on an Executive Order which would designate telecoms infrastructure as CNI.

Other issues ALTON is asking the Federal Government to resolve include “multiple taxation and multiple regulation” of telecom services.

ALTON had called for the amendment of Tax Order of 2015 to reduce multiple taxation.

Apart from the statutory taxes levied on operators, telcos pay Annual Operating Levy of certain percentage of earnings to the NCC and are also charged various rates by some other agencies of the federal, state and local governments.

“Illegal closure of telecom sites in the name of tax and revenue collection is an aberration that must be met with severe sanctions,” Adebayo added.

The ALTON chairman urged the communications minister, ensure that all the stakeholders in the sector work together to move the industry forward.


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