By ADEDEJI FAKOREDE
NIGERIAN Communications Commission (NCC) recently slammed fines totaling N120.4 million on MTN Nigeria, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat for failing to fully comply with the directive to deactivate pre-registered and defective Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards from their various networks.
The fines were contained in letters addressed specifically to the operators, dated August 26 and 28 respectively and were signed on behalf of Prof. Umar Danbatta, NCC Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer by Efosa Idehen and Yetunde Akinloye, heads, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement and Legal and Regulatory Services, respectively.
MTN Nigeria incurred the lion’s share of the collective sanction, as the regulator asked it to pay N102.2 million as fine, representing 84.8 per cent of the total sanction.
MTN is the largest telecoms company in the country with over 43 per cent market share. It currently has over 62 million subscribers on its network. The South African telecoms company was followed by Globacom, which was fined N7.4 million.
Etisalat and Airtel were also asked to pay N7 million and N3.8 million as fines respectively.
NCC in the letters, said the monitoring exercise revealed that the operators were still harbouring pre-registered and defective SIMs on their networks.
In the letter addressed to MTN, titled: ‘Re: Monitoring of Status Compliance with Stakeholders Resolution of August 4, 2015 on Deactivation of Incomplete and Improperly Registered SIM Cards Notice of Sanction’, NCC claimed that in continuation of its monitoring exercise, it placed voice calls to 402 MTN subscribers from among the list of numbers submitted to the telecommunications for deactivation.
“The numbers called are those whose registration were incomplete or invalid as regards facial capture and the responses from those affected MTN subscribers were that MTN has neither through text messages nor any other means invited them to come forward to validate and update their registration,” NCC stated.
The regulating body said in accordance with Regulations 19(1) and (2) and 20(1) of the Telephone Subscribers Registration Regulation 2011, “MTN will pay to the commission the total sum of N80.4 million being fine for the contravention.”
It added that the amount should be paid on or before September 9, failure of which shall, in accordance with Paragraph 2, Part B, Second Schedule of the Nigerian Communications (Enforcement Processes etc.) Regulations 2005, attract N100,000 per day for as long as it remains unpaid.
The second letter also asked MTN to pay another N21.8 million for the discovery of 109 additional pre-registered SIM cards purchased and found to be active on the network.
Also, in the letters addressed to other mobile network operators (MNOs), Globacom, Etisalat and Airtel, NCC recalled that at an industry engagement session of June 11, the commission had directed the MNOs, through its letters dated July 8 and August 4, to mop up all pre-registered SIM cards from the market.
The regulator said after the directive expired on August 11, it commenced monitoring of all MNOs to ensure compliance with the instruction.
According to the NCC, despite all warnings and pleadings to the operators, it found 37 pre-registered SIM cards still active on Globacom’s network, resulting in a N7.4 million fine for the indigenous telecoms company.
The same pattern of letter was addressed to Etisalat and Airtel, on whose networks 35 and 19 pre-registered SIM cards were found respectively.
Accordingly, Etisalat has been mandated to pay N7 million as fine and Airtel N3.8 million.
However, NCC warned that while it would continue to monitor and apply appropriate sanctions on the MNOs for all such preregistered SIM cards purchased by the commission, operators risk additional N100,000 fine per day for as long as the fines remain unpaid.
The commission had asked the operators to deactivate over 37 million SIM cards from their networks because of improper registrations and after having discovered that about 45 per cent of registered SIM cards on their networks were invalid.
As such, NCC had sent 18.6 million numbers to MTN for revalidation, 7.4 million to Airtel, 2.33 million to Glo and 19.46 million to Etisalat.
“However, our monitoring showed that MTN had only removed just 1.6 million and put them on ‘receive only’ mode. Airtel had only removed 2.3 million SIMs, Globacom also removed only 3.5 million from the network, but it was also partially done. Etisalat barred only 3.3 million SIMs also.
“The current sluggish stance of the operators to follow the directive could make the operators secure regulatory wrath, as their action is tantamount to be against the interest of the nation in the government’s efforts at enhancing the safety of the citizens,” Idehen had said in an August 11 interview in Lagos.
With over N31.1 billion said to have been spent so far on the SIM registration by the operators, stakeholders have continued to wonder why the exercise continues to face irregularities.
The renewed move by the NCC to enthrone sanity in the SIM registration database was consequent upon a meeting between Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Department of State Services (DSS), the network operators and the NCC, last month. Participants at the meeting took into cognizance crimes committed against members of the public either by kidnappers, terrorists, robbers and threats to lives, using unregistered SIM cards. The sale of pre-registered SIM cards is unethical and fundamental crime.
The implications of the sale of pre-registered SIM cards cannot be over emphasized, as innocent citizens could be wrongfully implicated due to the indiscriminate use of the pre-registered SIM cards arising from its sale to seasoned criminals who are seeking to perpetuate one form of crime or the other.
To justify the Commission SIM registration Project which cost N1.7 Billion, the immediate past Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, is reported to have told a government sub-committee probing the project that data of about 100 million old subscribers has been captured. In their response, representatives of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) expressed confident that the N1.7 Billion price tag for its SIM registration project is money well spent.
ALTON, ATCON, others react
Chairman of Association of Licenced Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr Gbenga Adebayo, in his reaction said though he was yet to be briefed by the telecom operators, he would not be in a hurry to fault the regulator since the current sanction bothers on disrespect of the authority of NCC which gave orders that ought to be carried out.
“From what I gathered, the recent sanction is not based on poor service quality but on a given order from NCC to operators to deactivate pre-registered SIM cards and all incomplete and improperly registered SIM cards on their networks for security reason which, of course, has nothing to do with poor service quality that is often blamed on operators erroneously. If the reasons for the penalty are based on violation of directives, then there will be no basis to fault the NCC,” Adebayo said.
Commenting on the issue of fines on the telecom operators, President of the Association of Telecommunication companies, (ATCON) Engr. Lanre Ajayi had this to say.
“We all agreed now that every SIM should to be registered and Nigerians have come to accept that for our own security and for our own sake. So, if we accept that all SIMs should be registered, we should also accept that SIMs not registered that are on the networks should be suspended. I think what they did is to suspend and not remove. In order words, if they go back to re-register, they will be re-activated back.”
Ajayi explained that his position about the registration of SIM is that the operators could have been allowed to handle it, adding that since it was in the wisdom of government that they decided the regulator should also participate in it and it has been done, they should leave it as it is.
On his part, the President of National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo said there is nothing to fault NCC on, since it was a directive given to telecoms operators on matters of national security.
He however said NCC could have extended the period of ultimatum to 30 days instead of one week to enable the operators deal squarely with the matter, since it bothers on subscribers which he said are slow to react to certain issues that concern them.
Miss Kasis Abone, a telecom consultant said that cards that have also been pre-registered by wrong persons also need to be identified and destroyed, stressing that when they fall into the wrong hands, “the consequence could affect the process and have a devastating effect on National security.”
Mr. Kingsley Odumodu, a subscriber and businessman while venting his anger, complained that the telecom operators are taking subscribers for granted because he has registered his SIM on one of the network thrice and now the firm has been threatening that if he fails to re-register the SIM, his line will be barred immediately.
“I went to several service centres to do what they said again, but met sea of heads of people who are waiting from morning till evening to get registered again. All this goes to show that the operators don’t have a good data base, hence people continue to do the registration several times over,” he said.
Past sanctions on operators
It would be recalled that the Commission had sanctioned the three major mobile network operators for various breaches in the past years.
In May 2012, NCC fined all the four Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) operators including MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat, nearly N1.17 billion for failing to meet up with the minimum standard of quality of service (QoS) for the months of March and April 2012.
Airtel, MTN, Glo, and Etisalat were fined N270 million, N360 million, N180 million and N360 million respectively. The sanctions were communicated to the mobile operators in letters dated May 10, 2012 and states that the four GSM operators failed to keep up with the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) as specified in Schedule 1 Table 2 of the QoS Regulations of 2012.
Airtel was fined a total of N270 million, N15 million and N2.5 million was for each parameter for a service contravened throughout the months of March and April respectively. NCC had directed Airtel to pay to the Commission on or before May 25, 2012, N270 million or attract further N2.5 million per day as long as the contravention persists.