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 percent 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 percent 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.
The overall experience with data services provided by Telcos in Nigeria leaves much to be desired, prompting an urgent need for regulatory intervention.
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.
The dilemma of data expiry
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 utilise.
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 cite 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.
The plight of the consumer
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 utilise their purchased data at their convenience, free from the constraints of an arbitrary expiration date.
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?
A call for regulatory action
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.
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.
Empowering the consumer
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.
Eromosele, a corporate communication professional and public affairs analyst, wrote via: [email protected]