By Etuka Sunday
Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has directed MTN, Airtel, Globacom and other network providers to refund the illegal airtime deductions from consumers in respect of forceful subscriptions to Value-Added Services (VAS).
NCC in a statement noted with great displeasure the unacceptably high level of consumer complaints in that regard, therefore, has mandated several initiatives to tackle the menace.
These include the institution of a comprehensive investigation and resolution process, the Do-not-Disturb (DND) facility, and the imposition of sanctions for breach.
The statement said: “disturbed by the persistent occurrence of the menace despite these measures, the Commission carried out a long and comprehensive investigative audit into VAS subscriptions across all MNO and VAS platforms. The investigative audit was led by the Compliance Monitoring & Enforcement Department of the Commission, with participation from its other Departments such as the Technical Standards and Network Integrity (TSNI), Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAB), Legal & Regulatory Services (LRS), and Licensing & Authorisation (L&A).
“The Audit Team analyzed subscribers’ Call Detail Records from MNOs and subscription logs from VAS providers over a period of two years, leading to the conclusion that a huge percentage of VAS services were not voluntarily subscribed for,” it said.
It said, the audit team also found that some providers had implemented disingenuous mechanisms by which large numbers of innocent consumers were “forcefully” subscribed to VAS platforms, leading to regular deduction of their airtime without their consent.
“As all Stakeholders are aware, the Commission has persistently insisted that actions of this sort are unacceptable as they are in direct breach of the Nigerian Communications Act and NCC’s many regulatory instruments on the matter. Such actions also undermine the very foundations of the customer/service provider relationship, that is, transparency and trust.
“Based on the outcome of the investigative audit, the Commission will shortly be directing the indicted organisations to make refunds to affected consumers as appropriate.
“The Commission is also considering, and will impose appropriate sanctions as necessary. This outcome justifies the Commission’s commitment to evidence-based interventions.
“We wish to use this opportunity to inform the general public that the Commission may suspend or outrightly decommission some VAS platforms and services in the overall interests of consumers.
“We assure consumers that these measures will be implemented with minimal inconvenience to them, and trust that we can count on the understanding of consumers who may be affected by these measures.
“The Commission assures all Stakeholders that we will continue to use all available resources to protect the rights of consumers of telecoms services and to ensure that they get appropriate value for their interactions with service and platform providers,” the statement said.