Telcos defy NCC over data auto-renewal

Despite a regulatory ban on auto renewal of telecommunications services, the four GSM operators in the country are still auto-renewing data subscriptions for the consumers, Tech Track Africa has learnt. The ban which took effect from May 21 has seen full compliance in the area of Value Added Services on the telecommunications networks but not with data.

The telecoms regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC) had early this year directed all service providers in the country to stop automatic or unwarranted renewal of data packages without the consent of the subscribers or risk N5 million fine. It said the directive became imperative in view of the mounting complaints from subscribers against the service providers for breaching the extant rules.

However, telecom subscribers who spoke with our Correspondent lamented that data renewal has not stopped. The experience, according to the subscribers cuts across the four mobile networks. Adewale Suraj, a banker, said the automatic data renewal had prompted him not to have up to N1500 on his line as the network usually renews his data subscription without his consent. “Even though I subscribe every month, I may decide not to renew immediately it expires  so as to extend the validity period for next subscription, but I discovered that once I have up to N1,500 on phone, the network just auto-renew my plan on the expiry date of my current subscription” he said.

Another subscriber, Joy Ojoachele, a student, said she had called her service provider several times to request stoppage of auto-renewal of data but she was being directed to use a code, which has not solved the problem. For Segun Alayande, a business owner he just discovered that his service provider added a code to stop auto-renewal under the ‘success’ message received after subscription. “For some time, I had the problem of auto-renewal and had to ensure I didn’t have enough airtime on my line after subscribing for data  because if I did, they would automatically renew my subscription. I later realised that all I needed to do was to send STOP to a code provided to avoid auto-renewal. But the message is not obvious; most subscribers would not even read to the bottom to see where they can stop auto-renewal”. He said since the telecom regulator has stopped the network operators from auto-renewing, they should allow the subscribers decide when they want to renew, not giving them the option of stopping auto-renewal when they didn’t opt in for it in the first place. “The NCC should look into this, not everybody reads their message after subscription” he said.

Value Added Service providers at a recent forum also complained that while the telcos had carried out the regulator’s directive by stopping auto renewal of VAS services on their networks, same has not been done with their data renewal, adding that they, (the VAS providers) as telecoms consumer are still experiencing data auto-renewal. According to them, the ban auto-renewal been has been affecting the VAS business as their revenue has plunged. They lamented that the regulators directive, which covers all telecoms services appeared to have been directed at VAS only.

However, the Director of Enforcement and Compliance Monitoring at NCC, Mr Efosa Idehen, said the regulator has also observed infractions in the area of data auto-renewal and currently investigating it. “Automatic renewal of data is an illegality and we are looking into it, very soon, you will see us take action” he said.

Speaking at a forum recently, the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta said aside the N5 million fine that awaits violation of the auto-renewal directive, everyday that the commission issues the sanction and the fine was not paid by the service provider, it will attract additional N500, 000.

‘‘We have also directed that no mobile service providers should impose their services to consumers. It is expected that they should obtain their consent. ‘‘There should be a written text by the network provider to the consumer requesting to know whether the consumer is interested in renewing the package, after that, the network provider must also repeat the process to ensure that the consumer understood the terms and conditions of the service and has given consent before automatic renewal. In a situation where the commission receives complaints from the consumer that he or she was short-changed, the Commission will take it up on behalf of the consumer because that will be a violation of directive” Danbatta said.

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