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Opinions of Sunday, 25 October 2009

Columnist: Akumey-Affizie, Nunya

Letter to: NCA Boss

Dear Sir,

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointments as the NCA boss. You share this title with RADM(NS) Ronnie TAY of Singapore. On that score you would agree with me that the task at hand is enormous and demands an all hands-on-deck approach.

I presume you are confident having a as your backbone, a justifiably and nationally acclaimed seasoned, experienced and intelligent individual in the person of Mr. Kofi Totobi Quakyi as your board chairman.

As part of the mission statement of NCA, it promises to set and enforce high standards of competence within the telecommunication industry in Ghana.
Let me draw your attention to some critical issues that you might deem worthy considering.

The burgeoning mobile industry in Ghana demands a more robust and effective regulatory framework to deal with the associated possible disregard, for consumer comfort and satisfaction, quality and efficiency of service standards and procedures by the telecommunications operators.

My first concern is the issue of Number Portability (NP). All the over the world telecommunications regulators are making all efforts to enforce the implementation of this technology considering the numerous benefits it brings to consumers and especially new entrants into the industry.
Permit me to enumerate some few benefits of the number portability service to consumers.
The availability of NP allows customers to switch carriers (Operators) and avoid both the direct and indirect costs associated with changing their telephone numbers.
Direct costs of changing telephone numbers include the costs of
Re-printing stationery, business cards, advertising materials for business users and the time and trouble associated with informing clients, business associates, friends, and family members of the new number for all users.

An indirect cost include such things as lost of goodwill associated with customers or associates who for whatever reason, may lose contact because of the change in number.
A calling party that is unable to reach a user because its phone number has changed also suffers some cost.
For business users that rely heavily on the telephone, the direct and indirect costs of changing numbers can be substantial.
The ability to avoid the costs of switching carriers, in turn, facilitates customers’ ability to take advantage of better deals from other carriers. These benefits may include lower prices, higher service quality, or better customer service.
In essence, NP allows a telephone customer to take advantage of a competitor’s better deal without facing the “transaction cost” of having to change its telephone number.
In economic terms, NP thus increases consumer welfare.

It is in the light of these valuable benefits that NP service brings to consumers that the Federal Communications Commission of United State of America on 13th May 2009 adopted two items to benefit and protect consumers.
The Commission first made it easier for consumers to switch voice service providers by requiring wire line, wireless and certain Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers to transfer a customer's existing telephone number to a new provider within one business day, rather than the current four-day requirement. The order stated that,

With the exception of small carriers, all providers must implement the new number porting interval within nine months from the time the Commission receives key input from the North American Numbering Council (NANC), which is due 90 days after the effective date of the order. Small carriers have 15 months after the NANC recommendation to implement the new interval. The NANC is a federal advisory committee charged with advising the Commission on numbering matters.
In a second order, the Commission expanded consumer protections for customers of interconnected VoIP providers. Interconnected VoIP providers are those whose customers can place calls to and receive calls from the public telephone network, rather than solely over the Internet.

These providers are now required to notify customers before they discontinue, reduce or impair service, as conventional providers currently must do. Interconnected VoIP providers can no longer close shop without notice, leaving customers unexpectedly without phone service or recourse.

Consumers are increasingly using interconnected VoIP to replace analog voice service, and their expectations for notice, access to emergency 911 services and other consumer protections are the same as users of conventional voice services.

The objectives for implementing NP include to:

• Remove barrier to the free choice of mobile network, by a subscriber

• Ensure further increase (boast) in the level of open competition among
Network operators

• Act as stimulus (incentive) for service providers to improve on quality of Service and consumer satisfaction

• Make it easier for the last mobile entrant to gain market share.

The nature of the NP should also be wholistic.Below are few suggestions.

Nature of Number Portability

• Location Portability:

This is the ability of a subscriber to retain his number when changing from a physical location to another within the same calling area. This mainly may apply to fixed line subscribers.

• Service Portability:

This is the ability of a subscriber to retain his number as he changes from one service to another, example from mobile to fixed services or from PSTN to ISDN services.

• Service Provider Portability

This is the ability of a subscriber to retain when changing from one service
provider to another. Service Provider portability can be introduced in three
ways: geographic, mobile and non-geographic. They relate to the numbers in the National Number Plan thus:

• Geographic Number portability or fixed Number portability refer to portability involving fixed geographic numbers.

• Mobile Number Portability refers to portability involving mobile numbers
• Non-geographic Portability refers to the portability involving special services such as Toll free services.
It is obvious that, the large operators in the market may strongly oppose the idea of number portability but you would agree with me that the ultimate aim is the satisfaction of the customers.
These services should not be a privilege but rather a necessity.

Secondly, I would like incline your mind to the indiscriminate erection of telecommunications towers especially in densely populated and residential areas. This practice is very hazardous to the health of inhabitants living within a certain perimeter from the tower. These towers emit Invisible Electro Magnetic Radiations (EMR) which can prove fatal for our health. Research has revealed that, health disorders such as Abnormal cell growth promotion ,DNA damage ,Reduced immune system ,Sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, depression, Weakened blood-brain barrier ,Childhood and adult leukemia ,Eye cancer ,Infertility and miscarriage ,Sleep disturbance and chronic fatigue ,Brain tumors ,Cardiac problems and many others.

It is very dangerous for pregnant ladies and their unborn babies. Sperm count in men is known to decrease by constant exposure to these radiations. Recent studies done in Europe show that tumors can be induced in rats, which were exposed to the same power levels and distances that normal cell phone users are exposed to from the phone’s antenna. These towers are a deathbed not only for human beings but also for birds.

The tragedy is that, more and more towers are being installed in close proximity around us. This is subjecting us to more and more radiations every day. I had even read about some ignorant people leasing out their terraces to telecommunication companies in allurement of a lot of money. They don’t realize that ultimately the money they are earning through this would be wasted in treating their
own selves against the radiations being emitted from right on top of them.

The telecom companies continue to install towers, which have a radiation power level of 7260 microwatt/m2, despite the specified level being just 600 microwatt/m2. None of the mobile companies follows the standards fixed by the international commission of non-iodized radiation.

I heard Hon. Omane Boamah speaking about the issue sometime ago. I would be glad if you can liaise with him so that we can see some change in trend.
Thirdly, I believe that you have realized massive digging along our roads to lay Fiber optics cables. In some particular instances, two mobile companies were digging almost at the same time at the same spot. The question that arises is that, should there be a need for maintenance on one of the fiber cables; one can just imagine how difficult it would be digging without destroying the other’s cable.

I would be pleased if you can bring some sanity into this exercise to forestall future chaos.

Finally, I would be glad if a complaints unit in the form of Question and Answer (Q&A) platform can be established at your outfit and on your website where issues relating to the conduct of business by the operators can be relayed to you by consumers for prompt action.
Thank you and may you live long.

Author: Cecil Nunya Akumey-Affizie
Telecoms. Industry Watcher