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Nigerian telecoms to face jail time over shoddy cell service

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Nigeria's Consumer Protection Council (CPC), with the backing of the country's government, is threatening to throw telecom executives in jail unless they improve their call quality. The African nation has seen mobile phone adoption rates soar over the past four years thanks to a price war that has dramatically lowered prices. That may seem like a win for consumers but, in fact, the increased user base (combined with the telecoms' general unwillingness to invest in their infrastructure and capacity) has rendered many cell services nearly unusable. The CPC argues that network congestion and dropped calls are so common that it's starting to cost consumers money. What's more, regulators recently performed Quality Assurance tests (QAT) for operators throughout the region and failed to find a single one that actually achieved the connection promised in their consumer service agreements.

The problem has gotten so bad last year that the CPC had ban telecoms from adding customers until they bring their existing infrastructure back to par. When that didn't work, the council began levying heavy fines against underperforming telecoms; again, with little success. Now, they're once again stepping up the pressure. "In order to enforce consumer rights and ensure compliance with CPC's enabling law, CPC has adopted a strategy of criminal prosecution of recalcitrant businesses or litigations to achieve satisfactory redress," said Dupe Atoki, CPC director general in a statement.

This decision follows similar actions taken by Tanzania and Zimbabwe to reign in their own telecoms and likely won't be the last. "Nigeria's decision to start slapping operators with criminal charges will closely be followed by many other countries in Africa because not only is Nigeria Africa's largest telecom market but also the region's largest economy," Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development said in a statement. Maybe then Nigerians will start receiving the service that they're already paying for.

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