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Public outcry forces NCC to suspend data tariff hike

•Senate summons communications minister

FOLLOWING the outrage against a directive by the  Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to telecom operators in Nigeria to introduce price floor for data segment of the telecommunications sector beginning from December 1, 2016, the commission said it has “suspended any further action in that direction.”

Nigerians, who took to Twitter to launch a campaign against the directive by the commission to the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) on November 1, 2016 on the determination of an interim price floor for data services after the stakeholders’ consultative meeting of October 19, 2016, said the proposed price hike was designed to make life more difficult than it already is.

Similarly, the Senate on Wednesday moved against the plan to hike data tariff. The Senate also issued a summons to the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, to appear before it.

One Twitter user, Joshua Okwe, started a petition, titled “Data plan rates by carriers in Nigeria should not be increased by NCC” against the proposed price hike with a single signature, and at the time of filing this report, the petition had 4,899 supporters.

Although the NCC said the decision to have a price floor was “primarily to promote a level playing field for all operators in the industry, encourage small operators and new entrants,” Nigerians said the move was to deprive small business owners the ease of doing business in the country.

Some even saw the directive as setting the country’s tech industry back by 20 years.

Victor Asemota, a tech enthusiast and business owner in Nigeria, said via his Twitter handle, @asemote, that: “between policies by CBN and NCC, proposed new role by NITDA, Nigerian Tech just went back another 20 years,” adding that “I am still trying to understand if Nigeria is a capitalist or communist country. Why should regulators actively prevent free market forces?”

@MizCazorla1 tweeted that: “All over the world data prices are crashing. In Nigeria, the NCC is tasking the telco’s to hike data price. I’m tired, I don’t belong here.”

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, former co-founder of Andela and now founder of Flutterwave, a tech-based financial service company, directing his tweets to President Muhammadu Buhari, via his Twitter handle, @MBuhari, said: “In one blow, we are about to destroy Yaba – the one bright spot of the last year for this government,” adding that “you will kill future @andela if you don’t stop the NCC from going through with this data price increase.

“People’s lives have improved because of opportunities they can access via the internet. So many young people rely on cheap mobile data to educate themselves in the face of a stretched education system. Sir @MBuhari – this is the equivalent of increasing fuel prices for young people.”

The Senate, which adopted a motion by its Deputy Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Alla condemned the planned increment in cost of data services by telecommunication companies made public in November by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC).

The lawmakers said that the planned increase in the cost of data services would further impoverish the people. The Senate equally ordered the network providers to put paid to their plan to commence implementation of the new tariffs today.

The Senate also mandated the Committee on Communications to commence a comprehensive investigation into the matter which has generated a range of controversies across the country and report back to it within one week.

The NCC, reacting to Twitter outrage on the matter, said in a written statement via its website that “the price floor is not an increase in price but a regulatory safeguard put in place by the telecommunications regulator to check anti-competitive practices by dominant operators.”

It added that in taking a decision to introduce price floor for data segment of the telecommunications sector, “the smaller operators were exempted from the new price regime, by virtue of their small market share.

“The decision on the price floor was taken in order to protect the consumers who are at the receiving end and save the smaller operators from predatory services that are likely to suffocate them and push them into extinction.”

Saying that the statement “clarifies the insinuation in some quarters that the regulator has fixed prices for data services,” the commission’s Director, Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo, said it “is not true” that the commission was trying to hike the data prices, saying “the NCC does not fix prices but provides regulatory guidelines to protect the consumers, deepen investments and safeguard the industry from imminent collapse.