The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami has again ordered broad policy deactivation of automatic voicemail on existing phone lines in the country.
The minister argued that the order was given to checkmate the latest trend of financial exploitation by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Nigeria through the automatic activation of the Voicemail Service on their platforms.
In a statement by the Minister’s spokesperson, Mrs. Uwa Suleiman noted that based on recent reports reaching the office, the practice has gained momentum in recent times.
“The Voicemail service should be accessed at the discretion of the subscriber and not by default. The Honourable Minister finds it worrisome and totally unacceptable, that telecoms subscribers incur financial charges, for a service they are compelled to use by default.
“Voicemail is not a popular service among mobile phone users in Nigeria, coupled with the language challenge among rural dwellers, who mostly do not understand the language deployed by these networks.
Pantami stated that, “it is apparent, that the recent clampdown on the exploitative activities of some Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, has beamed the searchlight on the sector properly, and some unpatriotic elements in the system are devising subtle, ingenious methods of defrauding Nigerians.
According to the minister, his current leadership will neither overlook any acts, regardless of how subtle, that undermine the Anti Corruption Crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, nor condone any attempts to defraud Nigerians and indeed, all subscribers.
Reacting to this, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications companies of Nigeria (ALTON) disagree with the Minister’s directive.
According to the Chairman, Engr Gbenga Adebayo the directive was described as unnecessary interference on a value added service, which the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), could simply handle without much ado.
ALTON pointed out that the recipient of the voice mail does not get charged for listening, because “It is free.”
“Voicemail (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.
“VM is a value added service and it should only be provisioned for those who expressly request for it. It may be recalled that MNOs reintroduced the VM facility to discourage people who “flash” continuously. Flashing wastes network resources and also degrades QoS reporting. This should not however justify the practise the way it is being done by some networks”, he said.
ALTON, however maintained that, this is not a major “policy issue” within the meaning of S. 23&24 of the NCA which empowers the Minister to formulate “general policy for the communications sector…” after due consultations organised by the NCC, describing it as a mere operational cum consumer protection issue which the Ministry could simply refer to NCC’s attention.
“It is a purely consumer related issues that minister refers to as a major policy issue and also amounts to unnecessary interference by the Minister contrary to Section 25 subsections 1 & 2 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003,” ALTON insisted.