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Subscribers seek end to exploitative data regime

To run a digital economy and learn virtually, affordable access to the internet is a sine qua non but over the last few months, the rate at which subscribers have been experiencing data depletion has been alarming. Subscribers want urgent fix to the problem.

Timileyin Kolade, a student, is frustrated with his mobile network operator (MNO).

According to the 18-year-old undergrad, when he first got the line a few years ago, he had no issue with running his data cost. But over the last three months, the story has changed. “When I got my smartphone, my monthly subscription was N1000. That gave me 1gigabyte of data. Since I don’t watch videos or download pictures, it takes me through the month.

“But it has since changed. That same gigabyte that was taking me through the month hardly lasts for three days now,” he said.

Another subscriber, Dele Ojo, said when he got tired of spending N2000 every two days, he was advised to do the N3, 500 subscription that would give him 10gigabyte, among other promises.

“I took the advice. I don’t like watching videos, so essentially, what I do are checking my social media accounts and reading newspapers online. The gigabytes disappeared after nine days. I was left with other night stuffs,” he said.

These are but few subscribers suffering in silence over a regime of inexplicable fast data depletion.

The President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ikechukwu Nnamani, said most services that subscribers have access to utilise more data. The quality of the video services is also higher and that means more data consumption. “There are a lot of applications that run in the background that if the subscribers are not aware of and disable when they are not using it, their data will continue to run and deplete. The regulator has a policy in place to check how subscribers are charged and the regulator ensures (that) subscribers are not cheated by the operators,” he said.

But significantly expanding internet access is vital for ensuring that children and young people are learning and acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to support a sustainable future.

According to report, at the height of nationwide lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 1.6 billion children were affected by school closures, causing the largest mass disruption of education in modern history. Yet, even before schools shut their doors, one in five school-age children (three to 17) was out of school, and even children in schools were not necessarily learning, with 617 million children and adolescents worldwide failing to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.

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To address these gaps, more than 90 per cent of the world’s education ministries have adopted some type of remote learning policy, and stakeholders have sought to “reimagine education” by harnessing technology.

The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) appears well aware of the importance of affordable data to promote learning.

Its Chairman, Prof. Adeolu Akande, who delivered a lecture in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, said cost reduction would aid e-learning in the country.

Speaking on:“Religion, education and national development” at the Foundation Day of Precious Corner Stone University, Ibadan, he said e-learning has become part of the new normal, no thanks to COVID-19 pandemic.

Akande said the provision of broadband infrastructure by the Federal Government is one step to achieving lower data cost.

He said the COVID-19 experience has shown that e-learning must be an integral part of the nation’s education system, implying a total overhaul of the education system.

Akande said: “Certain percentage of intruction ought to have been given through visual learning process.

“We have improved the backbone infrastructure like InfraCo (infrastructure providers), and licensing of private organisations to provide broadband infrastructure across the country.”

The Commission too appears not to be turning deaf ears to the complaints of the subscribers as it said it has instituted a forensic audit into the reasons customers’data disappear with lightening speed.

He said: “NCC has instituted a forensic audit on the cost of data, just like we did with cost of Short Message Service (SMS) on a particular mobile operator, where we discovered that the operator unlawfully surcharged its subscribers to the tune of over N100 million and we have asked the particular operator to make refunds immediately and the operator has commenced refund to the affected subscribers.

This could have gone unnoticed, if not for the quick intervention of NCC. We have plans to even extend the forensic audit on SMS to other telecoms operators.

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“So like we did for SMS, we are doing same for data to find out the reason for fast data depletion and it will be carried out across all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). By the time the audit is completed and the result is out, perhaps we will have better information of what is happening in the data segment, as it relates to fast data depletion.”

He said the Commission did its benchmarking recently and discovered that the cost of 1 Gigabyte of data had come down below N500, which represents 50 per cent reduction from what it used to be. He said there is however a target to reduce data cost to N390/Gigabyte by the year 2025, adding that Commission is almost there.

“The target, as enshrined in the National Broadband Plan (2020-2025) is to achieve N390/Gigabyte in the cost of data by the end of 2025, but the recent benchmarking that the NCC did, showed that the cost of data has reduced to more than 50 per cent from what it used to be at the beginning of 2020. For us as industry regulator, this is a good sign that data cost is coming down and that the issue of data depletion as experienced by subscribers, is gradually been addressed.

“Although the reduction in the cost of data may not completely address the issue of fast data depletion as currently being experienced by subscribers, but that NCC is considering a new measure that will completely address the issue of data depletion,” he said.

Prof Akande said the more the availability of these infrastructures, the more the prices of data will keep crashing. “As soon as most of these initiatives mature, the price of data will reduce to the bearest minimum,” he said. But many subscribers say while the grass grows the steed (horse) starves.

Thenation

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