The first clue was when the NCC statement said that the initial directive was taken after due consultation with all stakeholders. It should have been clear then, but it was the statement from the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) which settled the matter:
“ALTON wishes to emphasise that while it is imperative that telecommunications operators continue to explore opportunities to provide their subscribers with more value for their money, it is important that prices are set at realistic levels which ensure that subscribers are not only able to afford services but operators are also in a position to provide first rate services to their subscribers”.
“While we fully understand the public sentiments that would appear to have greeted the announcement of the new minimum data tariff introduced by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), ALTON wishes to state that NCC intervened to set the data tariff floor in exercise of its statutory responsibility to promote healthy competition by periodically reviewing voice and data tariffs in the industry and ensuring the sustainability of the Nigerian telecommunications industry”.
Essentially, the NCC acted as messenger boys for the telcos and took the heat on their behalf, only to backtrack with their tails between their legs when the kitchen got too hot.
There are a few things to draw from this.
First, the gradual decline in data prices has probably come to an end for now, but rather than simply freezing prices and focusing on quality of service, or making a case to subscribers for raising prices, the telcos tried to use the NCC to do their dirty work. Hand of Esau, voice of Jacob.
Second, there is the need to look closely at the relationship between the NCC and those they regulate. The NCC lied in its statement when it said the decision was about new entrants into the market. The people they were really trying to protect were the established players. Instead of just letting operators compete in a free market the way it is supposed to be done, the NCC has allowed itself be drawn into a very avoidable controversy. Just because you can set prices, doesn’t mean you should set prices.
Hopefully, the lesson has been learned.
This event ties into a broader culture about everything that is wrong with Nigeria. Government is just at the beck and call of a handful of individuals, ever ready to be deployed to do their dirty work. We have seen it across a range of industries. Bans and tariffs are applied to favour whatever interest group has the relevant government agency/bureaucrat/politician in their pocket at that time.
This is how it works in a free market: if a service provider feels as if the current prices are not working for them, those prices should be raised. Any other competitor who does it better for cheaper can feel free to enter the market with their product and have that market approve or reject it.
It should not be the NCC’s job to cover for the incompetence of telcos who rushed mindlessly in a stampede to the bottom because the next guy was doing the same thing, without looking at whether it was sustainable.
For enlisting the NCC to help clean up their mess, and the NCC allowing itself to be used as a nanny and a janitor, the regulator and the regulated are possessed of madness and belong in an asylum.