Within the last six months of the year, telecommunications operators have lost over 10 million active subscribers.
According to statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria entered 2017 with 155.1 million subscribers, but as at June, it reduced to 143.1 million. The teledensity, which was 110.8 per cent at the beginning of the year, also fell to 102.2 per cent within the period.
Although statistics showed that in terms of connected lines, the figure grew from 238 million in January to 241 million by the end of the half year, the number of active users of telephony services in Nigeria fell in the period under review.
Checks by The Guardian showed that MTN was most hit, losing about nine million subscribers, followed by 9mobile, which lost over 2.5 million, Airtel 500,000 while Globacom, which celebrated 14 years of operations in Nigeria yesterday, lost about 200,000 lines.
In an interaction with journalists, yesterday in Lagos, NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management (ECSM), Sunday Dare, confirmed that the Commission was aware of the about 10 million loss in mobile subscriptions in the country.
Dare said the Commission recently carried out a study on the sector to discover what the problems were, “and we discovered so many things were responsible for the drop in mobile subscriptions.”
Dare, who linked the chief of the challenges confronting subscribers in Nigeria to the current economic recession, added that it was also discovered that most people were churning out their Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards. This means that ‘when a subscriber buys a SIM card today, after registering and failed to activate within the 90 days, the lines are dumped, that subscription is gone.”
According to him, it was also discovered that most people have dropped the use of multiple SIMs because of technology consolidation, “with my phone, if I don’t have credit and I need to make call, I can switch to my Whatsapp or Skype, and do whatever I planned to do.”
The NCC ECSM also lamented that there are no more disposable income, as it used to be, because many people have lost their jobs, “so commitment to buying recharge cards have been drastically reduced. Because of the economic situation, people are now making smart decision on how to spend the little money they have.”
Speaking on Globacom’s free Data promo, which the telecommunications operator activated last Friday, but was subsequently blocked by the Commission, Dare explained that NCC acted to prevent cross subsidy (taking undue advantage), and to prevent any anti-competitive tendencies projected that may arise from the entire process.
“We wrote a letter to Glo CEO on Thursday, advising them to stop the move because of some of the issues this may generate afterwards,” he stated.
Meanwhile in reaction to The Guardian story on how sharp practices including call masking; SIM Box Fraud, call filling, and a host of others are threatening the $68 billion investments in the sector, Dare said the Commission has carried out due diligence checks on the operators. They include the Interconnect clearing houses, where some facts were discovered; “I can tell you that we are going to sanction all erring operators, and hopefully, that should start this week.”
The NCC said it had been inundated with complaints from subscribers, including highly placed government officials and corporate organisations about the menace, “and we are ready to sanction.”
The MNOs blamed inter-connect clearing houses, which pick up international call traffics, and terminate them on the local networks for the frauds. But the clearing houses have denied involvement, and passed the blame to the operators.
A telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, told The Guardian that the menace was being fuelled by the huge difference between termination rates for local and international voice calls. The development is therefore largely a ploy by perpetrators to illegally reduce their expenses while increasing their revenues.
“Decisive punitive action taken against one or two perpetrators would go a long way in serving as a deterrent. Action in this regard could range from financial sanction to suspension, revocation of licence and prosecution for economic and financial sabotage, and perhaps even for threat to national security,” he stated.