By Prince Osuagwu
THOSE who attendedÂ Â this yearâ€™s annual West and Central Africa Com Conference Abuja, last week, specifically to know the details of the 2.3Ghz license imbroglio, came back disappointed as the two principal parties to the conflict, shun questions on the issue.
The West&Central Africa Com conference is an international ICT conference organised annually by renowned information Communications and media events organisers, Informa &Telecoms for the two regions. This is the second time the event is held in Nigeria, at the Abuja International Conference Centre.
The organisers had latched on the controversy and apathy building at the wake of the cancellation by the Ministry of Information and Communications, of the 2.3Ghz Wimax licensing round concluded recently by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to lure many participants to attend the programme.
In one of its several communications to interested participants, Informa had said â€œthe Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issued licences for spectrum in the 2.3GHz frequency band for WiMAX services, which were allocated this month to Mobitel, Spectranet and Multilinks. But almost as soon as the news was out, doubts were raised about the licensing process, and it was stopped by the Ministry of Information and Communications. The NCC is currently fighting the cancellation and arguing its case with the government, so the process should take yet longer.
Both the Honourable Minister of Information & Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, and Ernest Ndukwe, CEO of the NCC, are due to give keynote presentations at the forthcoming West&Central Africa com congress taking place in Abuja. Their presence should attract a lot of attention from the local industry observers and stakeholders, as well as from across the regionâ€.
But the expectation of having the details of the impasse unveiled at the event was not to be as both Akunyili and Ndukwe who actually made bold appearances at the event the second day, denied participants the pleasure of feasting on their roles in the imbroglio.
The Minister was represented by her Technical Adviser, Mr Onuoha Nnachi, who delivered the message that for the ministry, the 2.3 Ghz licensing issue was a no-go-area.
Akunyili on new Tele ecom policy
However, he stressed that it was the wish of the minister to inform the participants that after reviewing the existing telecom policies, the federal government had decided to come up with a new telecom policy that would reshape telecommunications operations in Nigeria and match the growth and drive telecom is taking in recent times.
She believed that the existing policy which came into place in 2000 has lost touch with current situations on ground, particularly as it regards to growths that can affect the economy positively.
Addressing the need for rural infrastructure deployment, Akunyili said the existing policy did not give room for that, but that it has been taken care of in the new policy that will be released soon.
According to her, rural communities are yet to benefit immensely from the current telecommunication revolution, a situation she said, needs to be addressed urgently, adding that so many telecommunication poles and cablesÂ waste away because there are no proper policies to channel them into better usage.
Making a statement on telecommunication operations in Nigeria, Akunyili said telecommunication and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) remains a veritable tool for economic growth, social emancipation, health, educational and tourism development as well as globalization initiatives.
According to the Minister, through proper regulation of the industry, resulting from government policy of market liberalisation, a level playing field was created for the operators which has attracted not only increasing number of GSM operators, but also fixed and wireless line operators, as well as broadband providers.
Ndukwe on telecom Â Â Â growth
Meanwhile, the arrival of the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Engr Ernest Ndukwe, electrified the whole venue. With retinue of assistants, Ndukwe sauntered into the exhibition hall of the expo and inspected goods and services on exhibition and the participants that were almost bogged down by inactivity, came alive, following him around the ehbitorsâ€™ stands one after the other.
Almost immediately he was whisked away to the conference hall to give a speech on how the industry has faired under his regulation and this was where the participants got another rude shock.
Before making his speech, the EVC apologised for not making it to the venue at the time the brochure of the event stipulated, attributing the lapse to communication mix-up between the organisers and his office. He warned that after his speech he was going to answer any questions as far as they were not on the 2.3Ghz licensing issue. For him, that area was a no-go-area also.
However, Ndukwe maintained that the focus of his commission was to continue to drive telecom business in Nigeria and make availability of broadband access and Voice over Internet Protocol a priority.
He added that with about 67 million connected lines and appreciable internet penetration at the moment, the market was still about the best in Africa but promised that most of the policy overhaul going on in the sector, including collocation and infrastructure sharing, new interconnect rate plans as well as supporting operators to deploys services in the remotest areas with the aid of the Universal Services Provision Fund, USPF, would only make the industry better.
Bayo Ligali on doubleÂ taxation
Before the arrival of the representative of the Minister and later Ndukwe, Chief Executive Officer of Zain Nigeria, Mr Bayo Ligali had taken a swipe on the NCC to relax its regulatory obligations and ensure that double taxation on operators is nipped on the bud. Ligaliâ€™s point was that double taxation was killing the industry more than any other factor and called on the government to harmonise and streamline the functions of various levels of government and its agencies to ensure a healthy telecom environment for operators to play in.
Meanwhile contributions of other discussants at the event including representatives of MTN, Etisalat, Helios Towers, IHS, Ericsson and a host of other industry players pointed to great interests to further develop the Nigerian market to ensure a consistent flow of Foreign Direct Investment.
Etisalat in relaxedÂ Â regulation for new entrants
For the CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Steven Evans, ensuring a competitive environment is the only way government can ensure a healthy and active telecom sector .
To achieve this, Evans advocated a well targeted regulation to help new entrants compete on a level playing field.
Areas where this can be applied, according to him, included through site sharing, access to transmission links, national roaming, mobile number portability and asymmetrical interconnection.
MTN on lowering of tax es
In his own presentation MTN groupâ€™s Vice President for West and Central Africa, Mr. Christian de Faria, said MTN had marshalled out $1.3 billion investment for expansion and durable network building in Nigeria for the year 2009, adding that the lowering of taxes on mobile handsets would enable operators reach addressable markets.
He however agreed that the Nigerian regulator had a better performance among counterparts in Africa, reiterating his companyâ€™s resolve to continue to invest in Nigeria. But he also noted that the only setback could be challenges of limited infrastructure, onerous fiscal policies from governments and tax regimes as well as currency fluctuations which affect capital expenditure.
IHS, Helios Tower advo cate outsourcing
For CEO of Helios Towers, Mr Faisal Hussain and his counterpart at IHS, Mr William Saad,operators can also shed over head costs with outsourcing of non core functions like building and deployment of base stations and collocation sites. They were full of praises for Zain, MTN, Starcomms and others that have towed this line in recent times.
Although the two days event could not be said to record full capacity attendance, quality issues were discussed and perhaps the government may have taken away with it, the fact that there was need to quickly resolve the 2.3Ghz licensing stalemate to restore investorsâ€™ confidence, as no investor would like to invest in an environment where incessant government intervention upsets fair regulation.