In this internet age, data is the global currency. Computers, smart phones and hand held devices now seem useless without internet data. According to Airtel Nigeria, one of the telecom service providers in Nigeria, “Data is life”. Statistics show that broadband internet penetration in Nigeria is currently at about 33% from a meagre 6% in 2013, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The Comission has a growth target of 70% broadband penetration by 2021. Thus, internet data usage is expected to grow as many more cities, towns and villages get connected in future.
As internet data usage in Nigeria continues to grow, one expects that internet service will improve while the rates would become more competitive. Presently, internet service providers are having a field day with data pricing and measurement. The first response you’d typically get from an internet service provider if you complain that your data ran out too fast is that your usage determines how long the data would last. This is usually the case with capped data plans but with unlimited data plans, service providers may have devised a means of maximizing profit at the expense of unsuspecting subscribers.
Experience of Users
One subscriber recounts that in a bid to get more value for money, she subscribed to the ‘unlimited data plan’ using a mifi modem sold by Spectranet which costs N18,000 monthly, (about $50) for her small firm with less than 10 staff. A bigger modem (zoom CPE) was later procured, as the firm needed a modem that would serve more than 10 users and the zoom CPE modem was advertised as such by Spectranet. Unfortunately, there was no significant change in terms of quality of internet service, and the modem was unable to accommodate more than 10 users/devices leaving the subscriber disappointed.
This subscriber believed that the data was actually unlimited because it never got exhausted before the end of the one month period paid for, unlike the experience with the capped data plan. However, a check on the firm’s data usage on the ‘unlimited’ data plan revealed that data usage was around 70GB per month. Ironically, the previous capped data plan which was inadequate cost more – 50GB for N20,000 – and that was what made the ‘unlimited’ data plan seem more attractive.
Another subscriber complained that the ‘unlimited’ data in his office got exhausted before the end of the one month validity period of the data and also could not serve more than 10 users/devices. By the user’s estimate, the ‘unlimited’ data sold by Spectranet is only about 80-100GB and when this got used up, there was need for a subscription renewal meaning that the plan is actually not unlimited.
This subscriber went on to subscribe to an unlimited plan with a different service provider and noticed the difference as the experience with exhausted data became a thing of the past. It is therefore safe to conclude that the ‘unlimited’ data being sold by Spectranet is not unlimited in the true sense of the word. The trick is that you will never know unless your usage gets to the limit. This is a clear case of misrepresentation.
Challenges faced by data consumers in Nigeria
By and large the problems data users face in Nigeria include:
- Loss of left over data upon expiration. Interestingly, a recent lawsuit filed by a lawyer in Kenya may have forced Safaricom to remove time limits on data bundles in Kenya. See here and here
- Loss of left over data upon change of plan. A subscriber recounted the loss of over 300GB accumulated data due to change of data plan on Spectranet.
- Misrepresentation of capped data plan as unlimited data plan.
- Poor service across most of the internet service providers.
- Zero compensation for downtimes for subscribers even when the service providers admit an interruption to the service has occurred. All subscribers get is an apology for the inconvenience.
Consumers in Nigeria have been at the receiving end of various forms of consumer rights abuses in the telecom sector over the years. With the advent of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001, telecom giants that gained access into the Nigerian market had a field day fleecing consumers as there was an initial scramble for GSM phones and lines. The entry of GSM into the Nigerian market was a huge relief from the virtually non-existent tele-communication network at the time. Those were the days of billing calls on a per minute basis meaning that each fraction of a minute spent on a call was priced as a minute.
Thankfully, things quickly changed with competition in the telecom sector. Today, the unit price for calls is still crashing and the pricing mechanism which was skewed in favour of the service provider has been moderated. The same moderation is now required for data pricing and metrics. There is need for the regulators, lawmakers and citizens to challenge the status quo to safe guard the interest of the consumer. This is a clarion call.