The National Communications Authority (NCA) says it is working assiduously to sanitize the mobile value-added service (VAS) space to ensure that players in the industry strictly adhere to the Unsolicited Electronic Communication (UEC) Code of Conduct and end the widespread airtime vanishing problem.
This is contained in a letter signed by the Director-General Joe Anokye and addressed to the Managing Editor of Techgh24.com, Samuel Dowuona, titled “RE: PETITION: AIRTIME VANISHING VIA UNSOLICITED ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION.”
The letter was in response to a petition filed to the NCA by Techgh24 over the need for the regulator to do something about the widespread vanishing of airtime on people’s phones, which was found to be mainly because of hidden commercial UECs on people’s phones.
The petition, filed on January 20, 2021, followed months of consistent and compelling campaign dubbed #StopTheAirtimeLoot by Techgh24 and SqueakGh to educate Ghanaians on how to find and deactivate hidden subscriptions responsible for the widespread mobile airtime vanishing.
For years, Ghanaians have been complaining about the way mobile airtime vanishes so quickly from people’s phones. The situation has become worse over time, and was so bad that sometimes people buy airtime and the second they load the airtime, all of it vanishes.
The telcos have always argued that customers deliberately sign on to commercial value-added services (VAS) and that is how come their airtime vanish.
But the evidence of a possible airtime loot became apparent when the MTN TurboNet data SIM belonging yours truly was signed on to one such commercial value-added service without the consent of this writer and the airtime on the SIM was stolen on three occasions.
Techgh24 and Squeakgh therefore took up the matter help Ghanaians know what subscriptions they may have on their phones, which could explain the airtime vanishing problem. We therefore put out the short codes created by the telecom operators by which people can check and know if there are any hidden subscriptions on their phones.
These short codes have existed for years but are never promoted by the telcos for people to know and use them to protect themselves, until the last few months when the #StopTheAirtimeLoot campaign took the challenge to do so.
The campaign put out short codes *175# for MTN, *463# for Vodafone and *100# for AirtelTigo.
Find a copy of the first campaign flyer below – paid for by Techgh24 and Squeakgh.
The campaign also put out a brief step-by-step process by which Ghanaians can check and deactivate unwanted hidden subscriptions stealing their airtime.
Find artwork below
Since the campaign started, several phone users in Ghana have found and deactivated many hidden subscriptions on their phones, which they did not know about. One person found 20 such subscriptions on one phone. But the greater majority of people found between three and 15 hidden subscriptions.
The total number of such subscriptions found were 95 and the charges ranged between GHS0.19 per day to GHS2.02 per day, depending on which subscription one is signed on it.
The also campaign made several other findings about the unethical and illegal ways by which telcos and or their VAS providers sign people on and take their airtime without the consent of the subscriber, in blatant violation of the NCA’s Code of Conduct.
After running for months with huge success, the campaign finally petitioned the NCA officially to take up the matter and sanitize the system, and also investigate the violations so far and sanction the culprits.
The law prescribes either a five year jail term or a minimum of GHS60,000 fine of every single violation – and there may be millions of violations.
NCA responded to the petition and said they are working “We have taken notice of the concerns raised in your letter and wish to inform you that the Authority [NCA] is working assiduously on Unsolicited Electronic Communications related issues.”
“The NCA appreciates your effort in this regard,” the letter added.
Find the NCA letter below:
Even though the NCA letter did not say exactly what the regulator is doing about the problem, it would be expected that the NCA would pay attention to the recommendations in the campaign petition plus more.
The petition recommended the following to the NCA:
1. Ensure strict adherence to its own Code of Conduct so that the massive indiscriminate charges on subscribers’ airtime without their consent will stop.
2. Investigate the alleged signing on of subscribers without their consent and crack the whip where the evidence exist that the law was violated.
3. Look into the situation where VAS providers sit outside of Ghana and sign on Ghanaians for VAS content without their consent. Closely related to that, it would be helpful if the NCA can also investigate allegations of overseas VAS providers putting weblinks to VAS services on porn sites and dating sites for people to click on and sign unto SMS services in Ghana. This defies the Section 16.1.3 of the Code on clarity and transparency of the subscription process.
4. Push the telcos to increase the access capacity on the deactivation short codes to prevent congestion as people discover hidden subscriptions and deactivate same.
5. We would also like to recommend that the NCA looks at the possibility of employing the services of the INTERCONNECT CLEARINGHOUSE to route all VAS traffic. We are of the conviction that the ICH will be in the position to scrutinize all VAS traffic and ensure that they have met all the regulatory requirement, i.e.
a) request by the subscriber,
b) feedback message from the service provider to subscriber requesting for confirmation, and
c) reply by the subscriber confirming request,
before forwarding subscriptions to the intended subscriber. This will most likely bring some sanity into the VAS space.
Additionally, it would be important for NCA to ensure that telcos stop send VAS subscription requests in the form of pop up messages. It should come in the form of regular SMS that the subscriber can save and retrieve for future reference.