The Early Days of Mobile Phones
NITEL, it will be recalled, was for a long time the only telecommunications company in Nigeria. When NITEL ruled the roost, telephony was for the elites in Nigerians; and to own a phone, whether at home or in the office, stamps one as belonging to the middle class or upper middle class echelon of the society until the advent of privately owned mobile telecommunications companies of which MTN was the first.
I recollect the year 2003, the year MTN came into our national consciousness. A friend of mine approached a lady that year, and the answer he got was âDo you have a phoneâ? â A very practical illustration of the carry over elitist impression of phones from the NITEL days.
But how ridiculous that ladyâs response sound in the ears today â again, another illustration of the Obasanjoâs administrationâs success (or was it telecommunication companiesâ success?) in demystifying the impression that phones are not for the masses.
My Familyâs First Mobile Phone â MTN SIM Plus Alcatel phone
The first SIM cum phone to be owned in my immediate family was given to my father as an official communications gadget by the authorities of the institution he was then working for. It was an MTN SIM and an Alcatel phone. I canât remember how much exactly the cost of the two items, but they were very expensive (SIM card alone was more than N20, 000).
It goes without saying that once one owns a phone, one also owns the liability of recharging it. How long these recharge cards will last depends on the volume of calls, text messages and maybe charges for surfing the web. Most importantly however, it depends on the billing system of the telecommunication company.
How Competition Eroded MTNâs Aggressive Exploitation
MTN started with per minute billing (which was not in the interest of the customers, as we know) until Globacom network introduced per second billing. In order not to lose their customers to a rival company, MTN promptly adopted per second billing â in their own interest. After Globacom, other networks came on board and the competition became healthier; and Nigerians benefitted at least for a while.
I remember my first Etisalat line was given to me free of charge (and MTN once charge us over N20,000 for the same item). I also remember that I benefitted from Etisalat homezone promo. I remember very well that MTN network responded with an innovative promo â free night calls â to attract more customers and remain relevant.
A lot of Nigerians responded by buying MTN lines just to call their loved ones for longer time. Predominant among this group of customers were students. Little did we know that nothing is free in the real sense of the word.
MTN, as later events would prove, would in no time exact its revenge ruthlessly on its customers; but first MTN ensured that its network is the most widespread and most reliable in almost every part of the country. They made their customers reliant on them and then they unleashed their fangs practicing what I will call âentrepreneurial rascalityâ.
How MTN Has Been Exploiting Our Love for AWOOF
Today, we see MTNâs exploitative tendencies: MTN tricks their customers into their promos with their mouth watering offers like reduced call rates, free credits, free megabytes and so on, having understood the basic weakness of the average Nigerian- his love for AWOOF.
MTN exploits this weakness to their advantage.
A lot of customers enter the trap only for MTN to renege on their promo offers. They give scanty information (the type that speaks only about what the customers stand to gain and not what they will gain, thus depriving the customer their right of making informed consent as to whether they want to be a part of the promo or not.
The example of MTN zone promo readily comes to mind. One is baited into the promo with the offer of reduced call rate, as low as 1Kobo per second (as revealed on their posters). We are told that your phone shows you how much you pay for each call.
We believe them, and in fact, our phones actually show how much we will be charged for each call. We see 4kobo per second at the beginning of the call (that is when you can actually see how much you will be charged. By the time the receiver picks your call at the other end, your phone will be pressed against your ear, and you are no longer looking at your phone screen).
Sometimes when the call is beyond 2 seconds, MTN will no longer charge 4kobo per second as your screen revealed at the onset of the call: they increase their tariff mid-way into the call and the next thing you hear is â ONE MINUTE REMAINING.
This kind of behavior leaves much to be desired, and I sometimes wonder if it can be tolerated in their home country â South Africa.
About two weeks ago, I bought an MTN Fastlink modem from an MTN office in Osogbo. Usually, such packages come with free browsing megabytes, so I asked the staff who attended to me just to be sure; and he answered to the affirmative. When I got home, I discovered to my chagrin that the modem did not come with free megabytes. I have loaded credit cards on the modem (N100 credit card actually), and it did not reflect in my account balance.
I know of a friend who suffered the same fate. His case is worse as he loaded N2,500 for their one-month night plan and did not enjoy this service for even one day.Â Unfortunately, their customer care has proved to be of little help, as these moneys can hardly ever be refunded.
One thing baffles me however â it is the silence of Nigerians in the face of this exploitation.
I Have Some Questions to Ask
What is NCC doing about this? What is the House of Rep. or the Senate doing about it? Why are they busy debating Child Marriage when there are very pertinent issues like this? What is the average Nigerian doing about this?
The most commonly named culprit of this misnomer has always been that intangible component of the system â Bad Network. But, I wonder why this bad network always ensures that the losses are only on the side of the customers. MTN will never have bad network and forget to charge their customers. Bad network almost always ensures that the tariffs are higher than normal, Why?