NCA Rejects Request For Independent Technical Arbiter

The National Communications Authority (NCA) has taken a decisive decision not to grant the request of the Ghana Telecommunications Chamber to allow an independent technical arbiter to verify the results from the measurement of the quality of telecom services from the various operators in the country. It stated that; "It is important to understand that the NCA draws its mandate for Regulatory operations from the NCA Act 2008, Act 769, and the Electronic Communications Act 2008, Act 775". In an interview with the Director-General of the NCA, Mr Paarock Vanpercy, said based on this; "The call therefore for an independent technical arbiter or for that matter the charge of holding operators' performance to 'first world standards' is uninformed and really should not be repeated". The response from the NCA is in reaction to the call by the telecoms chamber for an independent technical arbiter to verify the results from the measurement of the quality of telecom services from the various operators in the country. The various telecoms companies, MTN, tiGO, Vodafone, Airtel and Expresso had through the Telecom Chamber vehemently challenged the technical methodology used in measuring the quality of service they provide and were, therefore, displeased on how the issue of poor quality of service was being handled. Although the NCA had earlier mentioned that the telcos had been given the opportunity to verify the results of the tests with their equipment and found worse results, the chamber is still is pushing for an independent technical arbiter, a call the NCA has totally rejected The call from the chamber emanated from the GH�1.2 million penalty slapped collectively on the five telecom operators in the country for poor quality services. Four of the five telecom companies have since paid a total of GH�950,000, being the penalty imposed on them for providing poor quality services to their subscribers. The payment of the fine was made following a stern directive from the Ministry of Communications which gave them 24 hours to pay up or face sanctions. In spite of the fact that the telcos have heeded to the deadline, the chamber maintains that, the players paid under protest and called for more dialogue on the issue to have matters better clarified. The Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber, Mr Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, had told the Graphic Business that the industry players were being confronted with major challenges which they had no control over. He mentioned cable theft, cuts in telephone cables by contractors working across the country, the refusal of residents to allow the mounting of base stations in their vicinities and the �exorbitant charges from the various local assemblies�. To Mr Sakyi-Addo, all these needed to be taken into serious consideration to and addressed accordingly. In making the issue clearer, Mr Vanpercy said; Section 6, Subsection 2 of Act 775 states among other things that �the NCA shall specify the quality of service indicators for telecommunications service and shall enforce a licensee�s compliance with its quality of service standards". He said; "These quality of service indicators have always been known to the operators. They are actually enshrined in their license conditions to which each operator has signed itself to". The NCA said the indicators for which the NCA routinely measure are the "Call Set up Time, Call Congestion Rate and Call Drop Rate". Call Set Up Time measures how long it takes for one to hear one's phone ringing when another dials a number. Ordinarily when one dials your number, that person to whom the call has been made to should hear the phone ringing within 10 seconds of having made that call. Anything outside that is not acceptable and constitutes a breach. Call Congestion Rate is the extent of difficulty experienced in making a call because of the lack of traffic channel connection. An acceptable rate of call congestion should not exceed one call connection failure in 100 call attempts, that is, not more than one per cent and Call Drop Rate is how often a call goes off during a conversation without either party voluntarily ending the call. An acceptable rate of call drops should not exceed three drops in 100 call conversations, that is, not more than three per cent. Mr. Vanpercy said; "What we do at the NCA is to simulate what the ordinary consumer experiences in terms of loading up airtime or credit and making a call". "These calls are captured by our Drive Test Equipment (which the Operators also have) and the computerised programme produces log files with every detail of calls made", he said. The NCA Boss further noted that "We then give these log files to the operators to interrogate and where deficiencies exist, they are given time to rectify, failing which if the deficiencies persist, we sanction. Mr Vanpercy said; "The current methodology has been available to Operators through their Chief Technical Officers since June 2009". He admitted that even before the NCA developed and acquired the capacity for drive test measurements, it depended on the operators to provide Compliance Reports on how well their networks were doing. Interestingly, he said, the reports showed, largely, that quality of service was good and compliant with the 10-second Call Set Up, per cent Call Congestion Rate and three per cent Call Drop Rate. "In those days, there were no agitations by Operators of these parameters being rather too stringent or as has been described lately, 'first world standards'. In those days they were proud to be reporting compliance with these standards", Mr Vanpercy said. It is interesting to note that during the months of July and August of 2010 when the NCA started publishing test results in the newspapers, some operators used the favourable results they enjoyed to their advantage by carrying out adverts on their websites about the quality of their service. Against this background, Mr Vanpercy said, "the sanctions we levy are not arbitrary." "They are actually based on a Schedule of Penalties (as required by Regulation 182 of L.I 1719) which have been gazzetted and of which each Operator has a copy", he emphasised. Per the schedule of penalties, he said each operator is aware of how much is payable for every breach or infraction under their License conditions. Asked about how the NCA intends to help the back and forth resolved, the NCA boss said "There is no stalemate. The NCA is only carrying out its function of ensuring that operators deliver on their Quality of Service obligations for good consumer experience.