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Data depletion: Addressing subscribers’ complaints

One of the major complaints by telecommunications consumers in Nigeria is the issue of unexplainable depletion of their data. While the telecom operators have, over the years, adduced several reasons to this, the industry regulator is not leaving anything to chances as it launched a probe into the networks to unravel the mystery. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

A telecoms subscriber, Mr. Femi Adekunle, subscribed for three gigabytes (GB) data plan with one-month validity on his mobile line. He was confident that with his level of usage, the subscription would last him 30 days or more, but to his surprise, after four days, he got a message from his network operator, that he had used 80 per cent of his data. In shock and disbelief, he dialed the code to check his data balance.

Alas! The three gigabytes remained only 600 megabytes (MB). He fumed. How come? He asked himself. Angrily, he called his service provider’s customer care line. After a check on the line, the response he got was that he had actually used 2.4 megabytes out of his three gigabytes. Just in four days!

He couldn’t believe it. Like Mr. Adekunle, many telecoms subscribers in the country have and are still experiencing data depletion on a daily basis. While indeed, several other factors outside the operator’s making could lead to loss of data on smartphones, the incessant complaints by consumers have drawn the attention of the regulator, Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), which is now conducting a forensic audit of the networks to ascertain the cause of the problem.

The audit

Determined to unravel the mystery behind complaints by many subscribers over unexplainable depletion of data, the NCC last week disclosed that it had commenced a forensic audit on the networks of MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9mobile, and other internet service providers. The audit, the commission said, was “to get to the bottom of why consumers are experiencing data depletion and the possibility of compensating them for wrong deductions, which may arise from short message service (SMS).”

The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who disclosed this in Abuja, said: “We have instituted and we have insisted that despite the fall in data price, that forensic audit must go on and must be concluded and the outcome communicated to the CEOs of telecom companies.” While appealing to Nigerians to wait for the outcome of the ongoing forensic audit, Danbatta said operators would be made to comply with whatever directions are given after the investigation to ensure maximum protection for telecom consumers. According to him, the commission would do everything possible to ensure maximum protection for consumers.

The EVC said while consumer protection remains a key focus area of the commission’s regulatory activities, it has accomplished significant improvements in this direction through various initiatives aimed at putting mobile operators on their toes to be more consumer-centric. He, however, noted that the commission had developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on data depletion, which are designed to inform consumers on activities that may result in faster depletion of their data as well as enlighten them on measures to mitigate such. The FAQs are accessible from the commission’s website.

What causes data depletion?

Although most subscribers believe that the telecom operators in the country are in the habit of ‘sucking’ their data or ‘deducting illegally’ from their data, industry analysts have highlighted several other factors that could lead to the depletion of data on smartphones. While the possibility of shady deals by the service providers is not foreclosed, they noted that the so-called ‘illegal deductions’ may not be illegal after all.

According to them, some of the factors that could be leading to fast data depletion include the advancement in technology, which has led to the rise in applications, updates, and services that leverage this technology and the advancement of supportive data infrastructure.

Others, according to the analysts, are increase in video-based advertising content by social media companies, which in some cases are layered on free services offered by the companies; autoupdates of apps on the phone over a mobile data network without any sort of prompting or intervention by the user of the mobile phone. As part of its consumer awareness programme, the NCC had also recently in a public notice alerted the subscribers of possible causes of data depletion on their phones.

“The nature of technology (2G, 3G or 4G ), the quality of the network, the speed of the download, the type of websites you visit, the specifications of your handset, and so many other factors contribute to your data consumption,” the commission noted. “Your data is used whenever your phone connects to the Internet.

The following activities are the most common uses that reduce your data: Sending and receiving emails; downloading and uploading files (pictures, documents, videos, among others.). The larger the file, the more the data consumption browsing the internet; the more pictures, videos, or graphics on the websites visited, the more data is used. “Instant Messaging – like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, etc, streaming music/ videos on YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and other channels and games use a lot more data than most people imagine due to the intense graphics and algorithms that power them. So also are Social media applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, etc, video-chatting and conferencing applications like Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp Video, among others,” the telecoms regulator explained.

Protecting the consumer

Over the years, the NCC had given a boost to consumer protection empowerment through sustained awareness creation and education on consumer rights and privileges. It was for this reason that the commission declared the year 2017 as the ‘Year of the Consumer’ with elaborate programmes to further underscore the NCC’s commitment to consumer protection, information, and education. The commission has intensified its compliance monitoring exercises with the acquisition of efficient tools and capacities to bring sanity in the industry all in a bid to improve the quality of consumer experience. Among several initiatives, Danbatta said the introduction of the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) had helped over 30 million consumers to block unsolicited text messages on their phones while stern regulatory actions are constantly taken by the regulator against any operator that prevents a consumer from subscribing to the DND service. Also, the EVC said the Commission launched the 622 Toll-free Number, which consumers can use to lodge and escalate servicerelated complaints to the commission for resolution, stating that thousands of complaints have been successfully resolved since its introduction.

Consumer-centric initiatives

Highlighting some of the initiatives of the commission geared towards the interest of the telecoms consumer, the EVC noted that in keeping with the global embrace of the digital public communication culture, and the reigning paradigm in corporate communications and complaints management, the commission, in 2015, set up an Online Media desk to handle media management aspects of its Website, being its major online media asset. “The desk also set social media assets. From three social media handles (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) in 2015, NCC now operates five functional social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and You- Tube.

Through these channels, the commission receives feedback on service delivery and other issues raised by the consumers. These online and social media channels have also become Commission’s major channels of disseminating information geared towards protecting, informing and educating telecoms consumer and other industry stakeholders,” he said. “Also closely connected to the issue of consumer engagement and protection is the Quality of Service (QoS). The import of the commission’s commitment to improving the QoS finds expression as the second item on the 8-Point Agenda.

The vision is to promote the availability of reliable, interoperable, rapidly- restorable critical ICT infrastructures that are supportive of all required services. “Part of the strategy put in place to realise the vision was the inauguration of a high-level task force by the Commission to identify all the issues militating against the quality of service on the networks.

Management of the commission also strengthened measures for Quality of Service (QoS) regulation, through improved oversight/ internal controls and facilitation of active infrastructure sharing amongst telecoms operators in ways that will encourage seamless adoption of next-generation technologies and remove all barriers to smooth operations,” he said.

Last line

The move by the NCC to unravel the mystery behind data depletion is a welcome development in the interest of the consumer and the industry. It is hoped that the forensic audit will be able to identify the challenges with a view to finding a lasting solution to the issue that has deepened the level of mistrust between the operators and the subscribers.

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