Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has been a busy man since he was appointed as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria — not that he wasn’t before now.
In his immediate past capacity as Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), he put in some fine work and this may have, in fact, fuelled his rise to the head of the country’s “newly-minted” Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
It appears one of Dr. Pantami’s keener interests since assuming office has been to keep the telcos operating in the country in check. And some may say he’s not had much of a problem throwing his weight about.
In the past few weeks, he’s ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to make telcos operating in Nigeria to slash their broadband data prices, stepped in when it looked like the telcos were going to charge subscribers for USSD services, ordered the deactivation of millions of improperly registered/unregistered SIM cards and threatened to penalise network providers whose services are not up to standard.
And now he’s at it again. On Friday, November 15, Dr. Pantami ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to stop the automatic voicemail service on existing lines.
According to a statement released by Uwa Suleiman, the Spokesperson to the Minister, Pantami described the service as financial exploitation by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, as voicemails were not popularly used in the country.
Actually, voicemail services are not popular in Nigeria but in recent times, it seems the telcos are hellbent on shoving it down the throats of subscribers.
These days, when a subscriber calls someone who is not able to answer, the telcos take it upon themselves to switch the caller to voicemail at the expiration of the ring. Then, charge the said unsuspecting caller for every second spent on the unsolicited voicemail. That’s pretty much the picture.
“Voicemail is not a popular service among mobile phone users in Nigeria, coupled with the language challenge among rural dwellers, who mostly do not understand the language deployed by these networks,” the Minister’s statement read.
Pantami instructed the NCC to immediately ensure that issues regarding automatic voicemails are addressed to allow subscribers the option of accessing the service at their discretion and not by default.
He added that the service was a subtle, ingenious method of defrauding Nigerians and it was totally unacceptable that subscribers incur finance charges for a service they are compelled to use by default.
“It is apparent, that the recent clampdown on the exploitative activities of some Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, has beamed the searchlight on the sector properly, and some unpatriotic elements in the system are devising subtle, ingenious methods of defrauding Nigerians,” he said.
In a bid to resolve this, the Minister asked the regulatory body to end the automatic voicemails by providing telecom subscribers with the option of accessing the service via an activation code.
And as would be expected, the telcos are countering the Minister’s claim on the automatic voicemails, denying claims that they may be fleecing subscribers.
According to Gbenga Adebayo, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), the association deems the allegations contained in the statement released by Dr. Pantami as untrue as the telcos are not forcing voicemail services on subscribers.
Adebayo said that the issue of automatic voicemails was not a major policy issue but instead was a consumer issue which the ministry could have easily called the attention of the NCC to settle amicably.
Speaking further, Adebayo went on to clarify that automatic voicemails are value-added services and as such should not be given to only those who request it.
However, he added that every customer has a choice to allow it or not as the voicemail only comes on if a user calls another and the recipient doesn’t pick. The voice prompt comes after the ringing tone ends, and if the user quits it immediately, he/she won’t be charged.
But that may not be entirely true. Subscribers do get charged for voicemail services they don’t even know they are using and it’s high time the matter is looked into.
Featured Image Courtesy: VOAnews