The Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy has taken another swipe at Nigerian telcos, this time, over the automatic activation of voicemail services at the expense of subscribers. It has been one of the pills that Nigerian network users have to swallow in helpless silence.
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantimi, has thus, in a statement issued on Thursday, and was signed by the spokesperson of the Honorable Minister, Mrs. Uwa Suleiman, directed all the telcos to halt the practice of voicemail by default. The statement says:
“The attention of the Honourable Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, has been drawn to the latest trend of financial exploitation by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, through the automatic activation of the voicemail service on their platforms. Based on recent reports reaching the office, the practice has gained momentum in recent times.
“The voicemail services should be accessed at the discretion of the subscriber and not by default. The Honourable Minister finds it worrisome and totally unacceptable that telecoms subscribers incur financial charges, for a service they are compelled to use by default. Voicemail is not a popular service among mobile phone users in Nigeria, coupled with the language challenge among rural dwellers, who mostly do not understand the language deployed by these networks.
“It is apparent, that the recent clampdown on the exploitative activities of some Mobile Network Operators in the country, has beamed the searchlight on the sector properly, and some unpatriotic elements in the system are devicing subtly, ingenious methods of defrauding Nigerians. The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy under the current leadership of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantimi), will neither overlook any acts, regardless of how subtle, that undermine the Anti-corruption Crusade of president Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, nor condone any attempt to defraud Nigerians and indeed, all subscribers.
“In the light of this, Dr. Pantimi has issued a broad policy directive to the sector regulator, Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), to immediately ensure that issues regarding automatic voicemails are addressed on all existing phone lines and the subscribers given the option of accessing the service via an activation code. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the rights of consumers are protected, while providing a conducive business environment for mobile network operators, in line with global best practice.”
Nigerians complain that telcos have been enjoying exploitative services with a full measure of impunity; the automatic voicemail is just one of the many of their sharp practices which are against the international best practices.
In many other countries, the choice of activating voicemails is solely the subscriber’s, the mobile network operators only provide you with the needed instruction to set up your voicemail. For instance, a Vodafone subscriber in Australia, who wishes to set up a voicemail has to do so following a few steps: Dial 121 and follow the instructions which will be the following: selecting a voice security code for checking messages from another phone, recording your name for your standard greeting, setting your time zone by selecting your state.
Once your voicemail is set up, you are required to stay on the line to personalize some of the options like switching your security code prompt on or off. You are further instructed on how to access your voicemail from your phone and from another phone, calling certain numbers with security code when you are accessing it from another phone.
This is an example of international best practices, but it is far from what is obtainable in Nigeria. As the communication minister noted, most Nigerian mobile phone users don’t know what voicemail is and they don’t care to know. Left to them, voicemail will never be activated. But they are the ones paying daily for it because it is on default, and will activate automatically once you try to reach unavailable subscriber.
The only warning comes in a monotone: “at the tone record your message.” Most of the people hearing that don’t really know what it means, in most cases, especially in the rural areas, they think the person they are calling have picked up, so they end up paying for the voicemail without knowing it. And the receiver will not be notified of any voicemail because he didn’t set up a voicemail and he doesn’t even know how to access it.
So the idea of voicemail by Nigerian telcos has been nothing but means of exploitation and Nigerians have been on the receiving end far too long.