Recently, there has been serious criticism of how mobile phone operators impose a seemingly exploitative tariff on Nigerians. While the thoughts being expressed are geniune, we have to first understand what obtains in the days before mobile phones.
In the days before mobile phones, there used to be a National Telecommunication body known as the Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL). NITEL was a monopoly that conducted its affairs as it deems fit. Despite the poor service being rendered by NITEL back then, they still charge exhorbitant fees for their service. I remember that my friend's father used to chase NITEL officials all over the place whenever there's a fault on his line, which is at least twice a week. The process of
obtaining a phone line to your residence usually takes an average of three (3) months depending on your location. Like PHCN (rebranded NEPA), you are sure of getting a bill at the end of the month even though you only used the phone for one day out of thirty (30) days in month. When NEPA strikes, the exchange in my home town will be down for days until power is restored.
And then came mobile phone to the rescue ...
When citizens of Nigeria had almost lost all hopes of having an effective means of communication, then came mobile phone to the rescue. It was a huge relief to everybody. Mobile phones had being in use in all the neighbouring countries to Nigeria. People who travel to those places always come back with reports of how ubiquitous mobile phones were in those places. We are currently having the same experience in Nigeria now.
Nigerians are obsessive and excessive with mobile phone use. I am yet to understand why someone will carry three (3) separate mobile phone lines in a country where we "claim" to find it hard to eat. The last time I visited the country, I was amazed at how sophisticated our people have become with mobile technology. The seemingly hungry and starving fellow who tells you that life is not easy in Nigeria is able to afford a phone that costs $200!
These phones come with all the bells and whistles that one can ever dream off. I dare not answer my old rugged Samsung D807 in public for fear of being laughed at. Anyway, that is a digression and another topic of discussion.
To be able to operate in Nigeria, mobile phone service providers are compelled to pay a huge licensing fee. One would think that our government had good motive for collecting such a huge amount of money for licences. I had thought that the proceeds will be used to develop the crumbled telecommunication infrastructure.
Like every other revenue generated in Nigeria, we are yet to be told what the money collected is used for. The advent of mobile phone signed the death certificate of NITEL. The stakeholders at NITEL also tried to pull a competitive stunt by starting their own mobile phone shop. The rest, they say, is history.
People go into business ventures for one singular reason: to make money. Fortunately for the mobile service providers, there was more money to be made in Nigeria than they could ever have dreamt of. The subscriber growth was exponential such that the realized their Return On Investment (ROI) faster than they had predicted.
The huge subscriber base put a huge strain on the resources provided by the service providers. While they can easily cope with adding more capacities to their network to handle the traffic surge, there are other factors that are not so easy to tackle. One of them is non-existent (used to be epileptic) power supply. Each base station has to have a power generating set that is capable of providing power 24 hours in a day.
Somebody has to bear the cost of running these generators else they will be recording losses instead of profits. Unfortunately, the cost has to be passed to the subscribers.
NITEL has SAT3, a great asset, in its care. Unfortunately, the stakeholders have no idea what to do with it. They could have taken some of the money realized from the sale of licences to build fibre optics infrastructure all over the country. They could have turn around and lease the fibre optics infrastructure to the telecom service providers or even used to introduce broadband Internet services.
Broadband Internet would have been an easy sell for NITEL giving the amount of infrastructure they already had on ground. There exchanges could have been easily converted to something much more useful. Unfortunately again, they missed it. The telecom operators had to do it themselves, once again.
Given all the opportunities that Nigerian government had to make a huge difference in the lives of the citizens of Nigeria and refused to use of it, it is quite unfair for them to now turn around and blame the telecom service providers for pooer service and expensive tariff.
Besides, their own MTel was even worse in the little time that it operated. It is very easy for us to criticize other people's effort when we are in no way involved. If they really want a change in the status quo, the government should play its part. If all the enabling infrastructure are available and the service providers still do not change their ways, then the regulatory bodies will be justified in compelling them to act appropriately.
However, if the status quo does not change, it will amount to an attemp to frustrate the good intentions of the service providers. In short, the regulatory authorities have no basis, other than being regulatory, to enforce or dictate how these people run their business, especially when they have no input in their success.
Disclaimer: The author is in no way affiliated to any service provider in Nigeria. The views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and in no way reflect the view of any of the service provider. The author simply attempts to present an objective view of the situation for readers to decide. Thank you for taking the time to empower yourself because information is POWER.
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