Protecting the Internet Consumer in 2018

Ufuoma DaroThe internet has revolutionized the global society as well as transformed economies and technological systems. Over the past three decades, this tool has no doubt made significant impact in the socio-economic development of nations with applications such as e-commerce, online banking and epayments, e-health, e-learning and e-government taking centre stage.

As Nigeria continues in its quest to become one of the 20 leading economies by 2020, stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector are concerned about the current level of internet connectivity, quality of service and penetration in the country. This is against the backdrop of the experience in other countries where speedy broadband penetration has been contributing substantially to economic growth.

Despite having over 98 million connected devices in Nigeria, access to affordable, effortless and seamless unlimited broadband internet experience still remains a major concern to many users. A lot of people use multiple devices in order to get access to internet at work, home or while socializing with friends.

Frustrations of Internet users in the country range from slow connectivity to high cost of services which are compounded by exploitations by the Internet Service Providers.

Recently, I was accosted by a lady on learning that I am a journalist reporting news in the ICT sector. Her grievance was that she is being exploited by her service provider and she seems powerless to do anything about it. Her frustrations with the ISP who claim to be providing services using 4G-LTE technology is that the service is very slow and she believes she is not getting the value she pays for. According to this lady, she subscribes to a service which costs N7000 for 15GB per month and which most times does not last for a week; adding that all she does is check her mails and do a few downloads, not videos. However, in a certain month when her children were around she decided to subscribe to the unlimited service which cost N18 000 per month with this same provider; that, to her, was a great mistake as the service was as good as Dial up internet. “There’s no greater punishment than slow internet,” she said as they could Google, Facebook, check your email under great difficulty and for downloads or watching of videos those were completely impossible. When she contacted the provider she was told that the problem was from her end as the Internet was working fine and that was it. As if that was not enough, after the expiration of that one month, she went back to her normal 15GB/N7000 and at that time the company had a bonus offer of 100percent which gave her 30GB; she said to her utter dismay in exactly one week the entire 30GB was gone. According to her, the children had gone back to school and she was the only one using the Internet to check her mails but no videos. She called the company severally asking for her usage history, they promised to send it to her by email but never did. She felt cheated and didn’t know what else to do. This is just an example of the many woes and frustrations that Internet consumers are going through in silence in Nigeria. It was therefore heartwarming when the NCC last year took a management decision to protect telecoms consumers and amplify its activities towards ensuring the consumer enjoys a customer experience that is enhanced and contented with in time and quality.

The declaration of the year 2017 as the ‘Year of Telecom Consumer’ by the Commission has continued to record more success stories but apparently only in the voice segment of the industry even though complaints in Internet usage are as old as voice.

Investigations have shown that high cost, lack of access, and slow Internet connectivity in Nigeria, remain a major concern in the telecommunications sector, and require urgent attention in the country.

Slow speed has implication in cost of use of internet; as service is slow, your data gets exhausted without getting the information you wish to upload or download. In fact, many cannot upload or download video.

Speaking at a forum last year, the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, attributed poor quality of service and slow Internet connections in the country to neglect of fixed telecommunications services, which have put tremendous pressure on mobile wireless services.

Danbatta said to reduce pressure on the existing lower microwave frequency bands and increase broadband access across Nigeria, the NCC has set aside the 38 GHz and 42 GHz bands, adding that both bands were suitable for short hop and point-to-point terrestrial links. These also support 3G/4G/LTE backhaul, and a high degree of frequency reuse due to the high directivity of their antennas.

The NCC however still needs to do more in the area of protecting the Internet users in the country. To start with, the Commission should ensure that all ISPs operate within the law and acceptable limited quality of service agreement.

Also, the Consumer Complaints Report Quarter 3 2017 published recently by the Commission focused on only voice telephony complaints as there no mention of complaints by Internet users.  The NCC therefore, should increase consumers’ enlightenment campaign in the area of complaints from Internet users so as to protect them and ease the challenges faced in this year 2018.

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