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Data Expiry: Time For NCC To Ease Consumers’ Pain

In recent years, the telecommu­nications landscape in Nige­ria has witnessed exponential growth, with an increasing number of users relying on data ser­vices for communication and con­nectivity. Data service has become a tremendously successful market segment for Telcos.

In Q3 2023, Nigeria’s top mobile network operators, MTN and Airtel, collectively generated N403.2 billion from data services. MTN, the coun­try’s largest telecom operator, saw a 38.9 per cent increase, reaching N279.5 billion in data revenue com­pared to N201.1 billion in the same period the previous year. Airtel Nigeria experienced a 29.3 per cent growth, reporting N123.7 billion in data subscriptions for the quarter ending September 2023. Both tele­com giants attribute this surge to heightened data consumption by their customers.

While the Telcos are smiling to the bank, a concerning issue has emerged – the expiration of unused data – which leaves consumers frus­trated and questioning the transpar­ency of these practices.

Any day on social media one is bound to see posts of consumers voicing their discontent with the apparent injustice of data plans that expire. This sentiment is echoed by many who find themselves losing hard-earned money for services they did not fully utilize.

The question arises: Why do these data plans have a finite lifes­pan?

While the official explanations may cite technical constraints or the need for efficient network man­agement, sceptics argue that the expiration mechanism serves as a revenue-generation tactic. The fear of losing unused data encourages users to purchase more, ultimately benefiting the Telcos financially.

Operators have been known to site data rollover policies as a consumer-friendly approach. The argument is that the implementa­tion of data rollover policies allows consumers to carry forward unused data to subsequent subscription pe­riods. This position however begs the question.

This practice is particularly egre­gious considering that data plans are not akin to prepaid cards; they are more comparable to a service subscription. Users expect the abil­ity to utilize their purchased data at their convenience, free from the constraints of an arbitrary expira­tion date.

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Beyond the expiration issue, con­sumers also grapple with subpar data speeds, unreliable services and exorbitant rates. The overall experi­ence with data services provided by Telcos in Nigeria leaves much to be desired, prompting an urgent need for regulatory intervention.

So, where is the Nigerian Com­munications Commission (NCC) when you need them?

The NCC holds a pivotal role in safeguarding consumers within the telecommunications sector. It has a rich history of putting the interest of the consumer first. Many of us remember the famous Consumer Parliament, and Consumer Help­line, among others systems the NCC had for hearing from the consum­ers. This is precisely why the reg­ulator’s silence on this “pressing” matter is worrisome.

The NCC now has offices across the six geopolitical regions but it ap­pears to be doing less and less for the consumer. The telecom regula­tor must now rouse itself. It needs to stay awake for the sake of the consumer.

In this data dilemma, to better protect consumers, the NCC must initiate a comprehensive review of data expiration policies imposed by Telcos. This includes considering the extension or elimination of ex­piration periods for unused data to grant users more flexibility.

Of course, in a matter like this, transparent communication is key. The NCC should mandate Telcos to clearly and concisely communicate data expiration details during plan subscriptions. This ensures con­sumers are well-informed about the implications of unused data and associated expiration policies.

In addition, the NCC must look at enforcing fair pricing. It should regularly assess and regulate data pricing to prevent exorbitant rates, ensuring consumers receive value for money in terms of data speed and service quality.

The regulator will do well to closely monitor Telcos’ perfor­mance, robust tracking systems should be established, focusing on data speeds, network reliability, and overall customer satisfaction. Penalties should be instituted for Telcos consistently failing to meet specified service standards.

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Educational initiatives are cru­cial for consumer empowerment. The NCC should launch campaigns to inform consumers about their rights and provide accessible in­formation on data plans, expiration policies and troubleshooting tips.

Moreover, a regular consumer feedback mechanism is essential. In this light, the NCC should establish an efficient system for consumers to report issues and concerns regarding data services. Prompt actions should be taken to address reported problems and ensure accountability within the telecommunications sector.

Promoting competition is anoth­er avenue that the regulator can ex­plore. Yes, the NCC can encourage healthy competition among Telcos to drive innovation and improve ser­vice quality. Measures should be in place to prevent monopolistic prac­tices and offer consumers diverse and competitive options.

Collaboration with consumer protection agencies, such as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), is equally vital. The NCC should work closely with these agencies to align efforts in safeguarding consumer rights, sharing information and col­laborating on initiatives to enhance consumer protection in the telecom­munications sector.

As consumers await regulatory action, there are practical steps they can take to protect their interests. Regularly checking data balances, understanding the terms and con­ditions of data plans, and providing feedback to both Telcos and regula­tory bodies can contribute to a more transparent and consumer-friendly telecommunications environment.

The expiration of unused data in Nigeria is not merely a techni­cal constraint; it is a symptom of a broader issue plaguing the telecom­munications sector. By shedding light on these practices, consumers can collectively advocate for change, urging regulatory bodies like the NCC to ensure that the interests of the people they serve are prioritised over profit margins.

It is time for a paradigm shift – one that places the consumer at the centre of telecommunications pol­icies and practices, fostering a fair and equitable relationship between Telcos and the Nigerian people. To the NCC, it is time to unravel the data expiry dilemma.

Source: independent

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