Discordant tunes over directive on automatic voicemails

Feelers emanating from the Nigerian telephony sector reveal that the recent directive by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Pantami, over alleged financial exploitation of the consumers by the telecommunications companies have been generating rumblings and discord in the sector.

Specifically, The Hon Minister had alleged that telcos were forcing Voicemail (VM) services on subscribers and consequently issued a directive that such should be reviewed with immediate effect.

A statement from the minister read: “The attention of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy has been drawn to the latest trend of financial exploitation by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, through the automatic activation of the voicemails service on their platforms. Based on recent reports reaching the office, the practice has gained momentum in recent times.”

In the light of this, Dr Pantami had issued a broad policy directive to the sector regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to immediately ensure that issues regarding automatic voicemails were addressed on all existing phone lines and the subscribers, given the option of accessing the service via an activation code.

“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the rights of consumers are protected, while providing conducive business environment for MNOs, in line with global best practice.”

Acting under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), the group said it believes “the minister was misquoted because a consumer issue such as this is not a major ‘policy issue’ envisaged in S.23 &24 of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) which empowers the minister to formulate ‘general policy for the communications sector’ (After consultations organised by the NCC!)”.

“It is a mere operational/consumer protection issue which the ministry can simply call NCC’s attention to.

“It is a purely consumer related issues that minister refers to as a major policy issue and it also amounts to unnecessary interference by the minister contrary  to Section 25  subsections 1 & 2 of the NCA 2003,” its Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo said.

ALTON said: “Our attention has been drawn to yet another directive by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy on Deactivation of Voice Mail Protocol by Service Providers’ Network.

“In as much we want to believe that the minister was misquoted, however, our positions on Voicemail Directive by the minister are VM is a value-added service. Only those who opt-in should have it; the current practice on some networks is that once you call and the recipient doesn’t pick, you get a voice prompt saying that the subscriber is not available and asking you to record a voice message *after the tone*.

“For the avoidance of doubt, you (as a consumer) are not billed anything, but if you delay, you may be charged for a few seconds, or for the time it takes you to record the message. The recipient of the voice mail does not get charged for listening. It is free.”


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