By Charles Abuede
- Consumers pay more, get less service value
- Networks providers charge consumers 7.5% VAT on calls, text
There is now a crescendo of complaints by consumers of telecommunication companies’ services who say that there is an orchestrated and deliberate deception in the bouquet of bonus offerings gleefully advertised to lure them to buy air time and data, but which promise they end up not fulfilling or delivering to their full satisfaction.
Business A.M., having noticed that bonuses often offered by the telecoms companies across the board end up not matching the claims that are often made when consumers are wooed to buy time and data, decided to do a wider survey to see how widespread this practice is and if, indeed, consumers had noticed this deception, and we came back with a treasure throve of complaints, which are often not acted upon because the bonuses often are made in the typical BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) sales pitch.
Specifically, we found that many telecom consumers who are often lured to buy particular types of data or voice service bundles with a promise to get twice or 10 times what they bought, find that the so called bonus promised results in incessant voice airtime exhaustion, data depletion and poor quality of data services from network providers.
Business A.M. learnt that many subscribers observing these promise breaches by the service providers now resort to censuring activities of telecoms providers over the voice or data bonuses credited to customers on airtime and data bundle purchases on their mobile devices, describing such benevolence as ripping off with suspicious and deceptive intent, and using this method to buy customers’ emotions and loyalty with controversial product offerings.
The growth in the use of technology for communication in the country appears to have equally created an avenue to be ripped off by service providers who, for lack of proper checks and sanctions, now hide under the cloak of offering bonuses to consumers, in a Nigerian market where competition has become very fierce creating a cut-throat atmosphere where luring consumers to buy more and more airtime and data by offering bonus is a way to keep heads above troubled waters.
It would appear that the catch is in the observed practice in recent years where the costs of data bundles have repeatedly been lowered by virtually all the service providers. However, many people spoken to for this story expressed their frustration at the practice of seeing that their data bundles, as well as airtime (inclusive of bonuses), no longer last-out longer like they did in the past.
In a recent survey by Business A.M on the streets, 40 telecom subscribers were polled and the responses are a pointer to what can be described as the trickery applied in the grand deception to get consumers to spend their money without getting promised service. For instance, 75 per cent of the 40 observed population revealed that owing to the tariff cost for calls either for the off-peak period or peak period, they are made to purchase airtime at least twice a week.
Also, 10 per cent of respondents told Business A.M. that they buy airtime on daily basis; and for a 10 minutes call duration, they are likely to spend an average of N300 worth of airtime, inclusive of bonuses for the call. Others said they buy airtime as many times as required, depending on how urgent the call is.
Our further enquiries revealed that network operators have in place mechanism to charge consumers a 7.5 per cent value-added tax (VAT) for every call and text transactions. However, in the effort to also appeal to customers’ emotions and generate revenues in the end, have introduced several bonus top-ups for consumers under the pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) plan.
Those surveyed said that some times, N1000 worth of airtime for voice usage may get just approximately 50 minutes validity on a local call to the same network and less call duration to a different network. The same amount, when spent on data can get you approximately one gigabyte of internet data, which will vary on usage. However, we found that comments by subscribers suggest otherwise as probing further we learnt that the same amount can only get an average subscriber less than 30 minutes on voice subscription and 1-gigabyte of data whose duration of use is between 3-10 days.
Furthermore, the assumed percentage bonus for calls and data promised at the time of purchase gets exhausted just minutes or a couple of hours after you had topped up. One observation with the bonuses offered by the telcos is the fast rate of depletion of data volume, voice airtime as well as the bonuses that had been promised. “I can recall that with bonus airtime from the networks, the per-second billings (PSBs) become significantly higher than normal airtime,” said one respondent.
During the lockdown, many Nigerians resorted to their smart phones for social media contents and other streaming services in a bid to shrug off the boredom brought about by the stay at home order from the federal government. Several complaints emerged over the fast pace at which data depletion occurred with so many of the affected individuals calling on the industry regulators, as well as the telecom operators, to take action as consumers found they were spending more but getting less value for the internet services offered by network operators.
Last year, Isa Pantami, Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy, attempted to wade into the matter by requesting an investigation by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC); in August 2019. It is now over 12 months, and no action has been taken regarding the issues of fast data depletion by the regulatory body. A recent report by the commission indicated that there was a surge in the number of complaints by consumers over rapid data depletion during the nationwide lockdown.
The survey by Business A.M. shows that internet subscribers go as far as subscribing on the average N5000 worth of data bundle volume for a 30-day period, while its validity takes less than 30 days. Also, 12 per cent of the total respondents recounted that they have gone the length to subscribe for unlimited internet plans for personal use, but each time the capped data bonus gets exhausted before date of expiration.
Other respondents, who see their data bundle last for specified duration based on minimal usage, lamented the poor state of internet service in the country, stating that network service unavailability affects the value they get, and in most cases, are left with no options of switching to networks with less internet coverage in the area or cheaper data services.
Telecom companies appear to show no remorse over these complaints, choosing instead to suggest that the operating business environment raise the cost of doing business in the country.