The average Nigerian faces a lot of pressure almost on a daily basis. The high level of inflation and exorbitant cost of living pervading the land make life unbearable. As if these are not enough, the growing imposition of unsolicited text messages on mobile telecommunication users has constituted another great burden and menace to the people of our dear nation.
Today, it is extremely difficult to use mobile phones without incurring extra and imposed cost by mobile operators. What this means is that phone users are charged for both what had been used and what has not been used. According to the regulatory agency, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), over 12 million telecommunication subscribers are fed up and had formally requested the service providers not to disturb them with unsolicited text messages and unwarranted calls any longer.
This ugly development continues to draw the indignation of subscribers across the country while expressing their discontent over the unavailability of an opportunity to opt out, but with little help from the regulators. This unethical practice is not peculiar to one telecoms operator, most of them are guilty, as far as sending of junk messages is concerned. Many subscribers have taken to the social media to vent their frustration, with many believing that NCC is keeping a deaf ear to their complaints and gradually appearing like a toothless bulldog that can only bark without biting, since the commission is seen not to take a firm stance despite issuing certain guidelines that have not been enforced by the telecoms operators.
NCC, telecom operators and VAS providers should not take mobile subscribers in the country for granted by permitting the continued, indiscriminate and reckless infringement of their privacy and rights to receive or reject certain communication, no matter how important they may feel they are to the sender. Statutory protection agencies such as the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) should equally rise up to the occasion. In a free market and capitalist economy like ours, consumers should be allowed to exercise their power of choice while anything that endangers the exercise of such privilege and freedom to acquire and disseminate information, should be discouraged.
Two years ago, NCC introduced the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb code. This decision, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said was to make it possible for short code that is generated, to enable consumers opt out of any SMS platform that they did not subscribe to. As at December 2017, more than 10,000 telecommunications consumers were reported to have activated the code. Furthermore, NCC had introduced a nationwide television commercial that was recently launched to further equip subscribers against unsolicited text messages. The Do-Not-Disturb Code enables subscribers, who do not want to receive unsolicited text messages, to simply text “STOP” to 2442 in any of the networks. Subscribers who still desire particular types of messages would have the opportunity to choose a particular message type by texting “HELP” to 2442, to avail themselves of the different options.
As a way forward, heavy sanctions should be imposed on telecoms operators flouting NCC directives. From all indications, telecommunications service providers do not deactivate unsolicited messages, even when subscribers send “STOP” to the code provided. What many people have observed is that, when subscribers send “STOP” to the provided code operators, they still charge them for sending the messages. I remember complaining to a friend that works in a telecoms outfit on why he should assist me to come out of the unsolicited message trap. What I noticed was that he started avoiding me until we finished the programme that brought both of us together. My subsequent messages and calls to him were never acknowledged.
NCC should make it a priority to deploy adequate technology to combat unsolicited messages, should the operators fail to heed warnings. As the commission had announced that its development of toll-free lines through which customers could lodge complaints, such initiative should be pursued to logical conclusions. Furthermore, NCC should equally intensify efforts at providing data roll-over that makes it possible for consumers to roll over unused data for period of time, depending on their data plans. Over time, service providers had resorted to programmed, forceful data subscription and value added services, which direct service providers to desist from forceful and automatic renewal of data services without prior consent of subscribers. Frequent sending and receiving of all manners of messages, apart from illegal charges, also cause unnecessary draining of battery.
Regular meetings and interactions among all stakeholders would go a long way in creating the right atmosphere for strong customer relations, douse tension, make customers get value for their hard-earned money and enable government live up to expectations by ensuring that the interest of all are not shortchanged or jeopardised. Adequate legislative oversight monitoring and more non-governmental organisations should be active at ending the identified indiscipline and sharp practices. It is hoped that in the weeks ahead, things would change for the better when telecoms operators improve their services, end arbitrary charges and stop sending unsolicited text messages to people.