Ghana's largest mobile telecom operator, MTN, has been directed to compensate its subscribers for last week’s massive service disruption.
The network provider has, consequently, been asked by the National Communications Authority (NCA), to submit a compensation plan for all its subscribers who were affected by the poor service delivery — both voice and data.
Daily Graphic investigations also indicated that MTN had been slapped with a more than GH¢1 million fine for inaccurately charging for incoming international calls.
Last week was frustrating for millions of MTN subscribers who could not make calls, top up credit or use data bundles.
But the latest directive runs contrary to the telecom regulator’s position last month, when the Network of Communication Reporters (NCR) urged the NCA to ensure that telcos compensated their customers for bad services, instead of NCA fines.
The NCA had maintained that it was difficult to supervise wholesale compensation for customers of the telcos in times of poor service because the authority could not measure customers’ experience to determine who suffered from network interruptions.
The NCA has been on a fining spree since last year, but the move has not proved deterrent enough, as poor services, characterised by call drops, call breaks, network congestion and Internet interruptions, have compelled some users to subscribe to more than one network.
A source close to the Ministry of Communications told the Daily Graphic that “there is a tax element that should go to the government. By inaccurately reporting the international traffic figures, the government has lost money”.
When contacted, NCA officials declined to comment on the issue, except to say, “We are still investigating the issues and will issue the responses at the right time.”
While MTN’s customers seemed angry over the network’s inconsistent service delivery, the Daily Graphic found that the company had applied for 13 million numbers to add to its more than 10 million subscribers.
But the move has been blocked by the NCA.
Daily Graphic checks with the NCA and Ministry of Communications sources indicated that the decision was due to the fact that the NCA was not convinced that MTN had managed its current capacity well and that adding extra numbers would only deteriorate the network’s quality of service.
While customer complaints mount over poor services, the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications (GCT), has always maintained that a number of factors, including cable theft and energy challenges, conspire to deny customers better telecom services.
Customers speak out
Frustrated MTN customers took to the company’s Facebook page to vent their anger on the network for not living up to expectation.
Franck Badu-Fosu Odumgya De-General wrote: “Instead of notifying your subscribers about why they cannot make or receive calls, you are here doing promotions; no respect whatsoever for your subscribers. I hope you folks at MTN Ghana have heard of network portability.”
“I think you guys can’t cater for all 11 million subscribers.... You should just tell us to join other networks to reduce the load you have..... This will enable those who will remain to enjoy better services,” Abena Amenuah wrote.
Emmanuel Mamalia took a swipe at MTN’s mobile money system: “This boasting on mobile money is a disgrace to anyone using it because as of now, I have money in my account but cannot send it to my seriously sick relative.”
Another angry customer, Shulammite Ama Okley, wrote: “Your connection is lost in Koforidua and its environs and you’re here talking sh..t. (sic). Do you know the money I’ve lost ... because of your recklessness? I wish I had enough money to sue you.”
Meanwhile, the NCA has again sanctioned the telecom operators for the second time this year for failing service benchmarks, including call drop and call set time, congestion, call completion and signalling obligations.
In a response e-mailed to the Daily Graphic which promised to speak to the compensation package, the inaccurate international call figures and the extra numbers later, Mr Reuben Opata, MTN’s Senior Manager, Radio Access Network Planning, acknowledged the problems.
“The issue is that MTN network is undergoing a significant level of modernisation and transformation, in line with our network strategy. As a result, we anticipate intermittent outages whose impact on subscribers MTN is working hard to minimise. We are constantly evaluating and adding extra protection and back-ups in the network.
“The disruption on Wednesday, especially, was as a result of network interface link connection on switch which experienced intermittent errors, resulting in the links failing. That caused difficulty for some subscribers making and receiving calls. MTN also re-routed traffic as per back-up to decrease the impact on the network. Wednesday’s problems are fully resolved. However, there are isolated network issues unrelated to what happened on Wednesday,” he added.
He said MTN was far advanced in the modernisation process and anticipated stability in the network, which was the key focus of the network transformation process, adding that the technicians were monitoring the situation to ensure that there was no recurrence of last Wednesday’s problem.
Second quarter sanctions
While MTN has been slapped with a GH¢100,000 fine for defaulting call congestion obligation in the Central and Western regions, Glo was slapped with the highest penalty of GH¢200,000 for defaulting call set up time, call completion and signalling congestion in those regions.
Tigo will pay GH¢50,000 for defaulting call congestion obligation in the Central Region, with Airtel also in the books of the NCA for call congestion and call set up in the Central and Western regions.
While there were no monetary sanctions on Expresso, the company has been directed to build cell sites in Kasoa in the Central Region and Essikado in the Western Region for defaulting call congestion in the two regions.
Only Vodafone escaped the wrath of the NCA because it met all the licence obligations during the period.
In May, this year, five telcos — MTN, tiGO, Glo, Airtel and Expresso — out of the six operators were slapped with fines totalling GH¢900,000 for providing poor services for their consumers.