The report that Nigeria lost over $3billion or N1.06 trillion to call masking and other related infractions in the telecoms industry in the past 14 months is worrisome. Apart from constituting a security threat, the sharp practices may have robbed the government and telecoms companies of some revenue.
Disclosing the disturbing development at the 85th edition of the Telecoms Consumer Parliament in Lagos, the Executive Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, assured that “the commission was on top of the situation.” According to experts in the telecoms industry, call masking/refilling is when an international call ID is tampered with and terminated in Nigeria as a local number.
SIM boxing is a process of creating an artificial middleman with a device that alternates call rates. The call masking challenge, as explained by the NCC helmsman, started since September 2016 when the NCC reviewed the termination rate for international inbound traffic from N3.90 per minute to N24.40 per minute.
Thus the perpetrators of call masking/refilling devised a means to terminate international calls as local calls and profit from the price differentials. They also avoid paying the new rate for termination of international calls.
The representative of the NCC boss and Director Consumer Affairs Bureau, Mrs. Felicia Onwuegbuchulam, pointed out that call masking is perpetrated with small movable devices called SIM boxes, which are electronic boxes loaded with SIM numbers. She also explained that a SIM box has a capacity to receive and transmit calls undetected. Unfortunately, these SIM boxes are not approved by the Commission.
To stem the menace of call masking, the NCC suspended six interconnect exchange licensees in February 2018. It also barred 750,000 lines belonging to 13 operators from the national network based on the suspicion that they were being used for call masking and refilling.
Despite this move by the NCC, the problem of call masking has persisted. Available records show that the contribution of the telecoms industry to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at $70 billion as at 2017. Nigeria’s phone subscription, according to NCC, reached the 147 million mark in January 2018. It has broadband penetration of 21 percent. Besides, the industry has created many jobs since the advent of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in 2001.
We condemn the activities of those that engage in call masking/refilling and SIM boxing in the telecoms sector. It is good that NCC has sanctioned some licensed telecoms operators for the infractions. It should go a step further to sanction other telecoms firms involved in SIM boxing.
The overall aim of the NCC should be to eradicate the fraudulent practice in the sector forthwith. Since the NCC is aware of this economic sabotage, it must come up with drastic measures to stop the menace. The perpetrators of this crime must be apprehended and prosecuted for depriving the government of revenue.
Doing so will deter others from toeing the ignoble path. The government should also make laws with stiffer sanctions against call masking/refilling and other related infractions in the telecoms sector.
Besides, the NCC must equally address the problem of unsolicited text messages from telecoms operators, call dropping overbilling and poor quality of services. We recall that the network operators were given up to June 30, 2016 to stop sending unsolicited Short Message Service (SMS) or calls to subscribers or face sanctions. In spite of that deadline and N5 million fine in the first instance, the problem is yet to abate.
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Last year, the NCC asked the network operators to create a database for phone numbers of subscribers on the “Do-Not-Disturb” list in the bid to stop unsolicited messages. Since part of the 8-point agenda of the Danbatta regime is to improve the quality of service, he must ensure that all network operators improve the quality of their services to their customers. This is the minimum Nigerians expect from him.