Worried by the effect of bad innovations and other ills of Information Communications Technology (ICT) the African telecoms regulators have gathered once again in Nigeria to evolve plans, policies and strategies to safeguard interests of the end users of telecommunications services. AYONI M. AGBABIAKA reports.
President Muhammadu Buhari tasked the African nation’s to explore ways to protect the citizenry as they deepen the use of ICT and innovations in national development.
The president who spoke as the guest speaker said this at the second edition of the Conference of African Telecommunications Regulators on Consumer Affairs (CATCO) 2019 holding at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, Tuesday.
ICT has become an enabler of economic growth
The participants at the conference noted that though ICT has become an enabler of economic growth the need for every country to keep herself abreast of the fast paced technological evolution from the first, second, third, fourth and the fifth generation of technologies cannot be overemphasised.
“It is also an established fact that telecommunications and broadly speaking, ICT, has become an enabler of economic growth. In Nigeria, the sector has been driving the federal government’s digital transformation agenda aimed at boosting efficiency in governance and all the key sectors of the economy.
“In fact, the contribution of telecoms to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) now stands at over 10 per cent by the first quarter of this year. We want to see telecoms industry playing even bigger role as an enabler of economic growth and development not only in Nigeria but also across Africa.
“The need for every country to keep herself abreast of the fast paced technological evolution from the first, second, third, fourth and the fifth generation of technologies cannot be overemphasised. Today, we now talk of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Smart Cities and various smart technological renovations, all of which are targeted at certain group of consumers of digital services, whether individual or corporate entities.
“As regulators of one of the dynamic sectors of the economy in Africa, therefore, telecoms regulatory agencies should be concerned about the effects of this technological changes on the consumers.
“Indeed, these technologies have created a borderless world with powerful impacts on the lives of millions of telecoms consumers, regardless of how remote they are physically located. But we must be aware that these technologies present enormous opportunities for the consumers on the one hand and may constitute threats to consumers on the other hand, especially if left improperly regulated.
“In essence, much as the technological evolution has changed the way we interact as nations it has also deepened the frontier for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. This has, therefore, necessitated the need for regulators to be on top of their game in safeguarding the interests of the end users of these complex technologies.
“Globally, technological evolution has facilitated innovations in various sectors of the economy such as banking, agriculture, healthcare, commerce, entertainment, transport, and so on, bringing a lot of efficiency in service delivery as we are witnessing in Nigeria.
“However, these channels may also be hijacked and manipulated to the detriment of vulnerable consumers as can be demonstrated by rise in e-fraud activities and cybercrimes.
“It is in this light that I wish to charge telecoms regulators in Africa that, as you focus on deepening access to digital services in your respective countries, attention must also be paid to how consumers are empowered to be protected from the antics of abusers of these technologies,” president Muhammadu Buhari said.
Tangible proposals and policies
He further implore participants at the conference to come up with tangible proposals and policies for governments in African on how to enhance telecom consumers’ quality of experience across Africa as well as increase accessibility, affordability and safety for all users of digital services.
Executive vice chairman Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) professor Umar Garba Danbata said that a 17-point resolutions was reached on various approaches African regulators can deploy to safeguard and protect telecoms consumers during the maiden edition held in October, 2013 in Lagos.
“It is also instructive that during the six years hiatus, the digital space has recorded tremendous evolutionary advancements. This advancement in technologies has, nonetheless, thrown up various issues on the need for regulators to strengthen necessary regulatory valves towards safeguarding the interest of consumer of digital tools and services.
“Indeed, today’s event is considered a bridge builder, as we hope to continue to host this amongst ourselves annually as telecom regulators of the African continent.
“Regulators are now faced with the huge and daunting challenges of matching their regulatory policies with the various stakeholders’ interests within the context of the advancement being witnessed every minute in the digital space. Today’s event is, therefore, remarkable because the telecom consumer is at the center stage of our regulation.
Growing the telecom industry
“We at the NCC, being a consumer-centric regulatory organisation, have taken the directions that clearly illustrate the steps of consumer affairs and for this reason, policies such as guidelines, regulations and other intervention mechanisms have been deliberately put in place to grow the telecom industry while empowering and protecting the consumers. It needs to be stated here that consumer empowerment and protection is consistent with Item 6 of the 8-Point Agenda of the Commission which I set in motion when I assumed office in 2015 as our strategic vision over the period 2015-2020.
The key focus of the declaration was: Ensuring continuous improvement of quality, ubiquitous and affordable services to the consumer; increasing our consultative engagement with the consumer to always service the needs and desires of the consumer positively; ensuring that services yield the result of improving consumer experience by supporting better access to life changing and improvement opportunities, access to governance services, business and career development, quality education and social engagement.
Other focus areas
Other focus of the declaration are: Increasing consumer information and education; and strengthening consumer-centric regulatory governance and policy administration.
“Consequently, the NCC has gone further to introduce two major initiatives as part of measures to empower the consumers. These are the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 Short Code, which the consumers can use to control what they receive on their phones as unsolicited text messages or calls.
“In view of the important role of telecom consumers in the overall achievements of NCC objectives and the growth of the telecom industry, and as a fallout of our implementation of some of the resolutions reached during the 2013 CATCO, the NCC declared year 2017 as the Year of Nigerian Telecom Consumer.I am happy to inform you that, more than 21 million subscribers have signed up for the DND as we continue to create more awareness on it through our various outreach programmes and other stakeholder engagement fora.
“The second initiative in this direction is the NCC 622 Toll-Free Line set up specifically to ensure improvement in service delivery. Consumers can call the 622 number to escalate their unresolved complaints by their service providers for effective resolution through the Commission’s intervention.
“Hundreds of ‘complaints’ calls are received and successfully handled to the delight of the consumers on weekly basis. Total Complaints received from January 2015 till July 2019 is 276,103 (Two Hundred and Seventy One Thousand, One Hundred and Twelve, with 95% of these Complaints having been successfully resolved,” he said.
This 2019 edition of CATCO, therefore, is expected to critically examine, analyse and identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to how telecoms regulators can empower the consumers in this era of technological evolution.
CATCO is a platform where the telecoms regulatory bodies across the length and breadth of Africa gather to exchange ideas and compare notes on how best to improve telecoms services experience for the consumer.
Topic of this conference was ‘Empowering the Telecom Consumer in an Era of Technological Evolution.