By Prince Osuagwu
Recently, an undersea cable landing license granted to MTN Nigeria, promoters of the West African Cable Ssystems WACS, by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, attracted very serious criticisms from telecommunications industry faithfuls.
West African Cable System is a high capacity submarine cable system linking Europe, West Africa and South Africa with over 3.8 Tbps.
WACS has a consortium of 11 Operators from 9 Countries, including MTN, Portugal Telecom, Tata/Neotel, Telkom, Broadband Infraco, Vodacom, among others.
However, the criticisms were not that the NCC acted ultra vires to the laws establishing it or that the processes of granting the license was faulty.
The criticisms were that the NCC should have spited back at South Africa by denying an operator known to originate from its climes the license, since the same had just happened to a Nigerian company of same business line in the hands of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, ICASA, the NCCâ€™s counterpart in South Africa.
The criticism also followed a barrage of media reports each taking a swipe at the imbalance of trade and other relations between Nigeria and South Africa. The line of argument toed was that there was no balance in relation in Nigeriaâ€™s regulator granting WACS a landing license, when ICASA denied same license to a Nigerian company, MainOne Cable Company, laying a 14, 000 km submarine fibre optic cable from Seixal, Portugal to West Africa.
MainOneâ€™s cable project has initial landing points in Accra, Ghana and Lagos in the first phase and to South Africa in the second phase.
However, NCC after evaluating all the criticism, says it would have been more damaging to the image of the country if a government agency like it, had mixed sentiments with important policy issues as important application and granting of license to deserving operators.
Head, Media and Public Relations of the Commission, Mr Reuben Muoka, admitted that â€œthe attention of the Commission has been drawn to the claim from some quarters that Nigerian companies are being denied cable landing rights by South African government, while a local company with South African interest was recently granted a similar licence by the Commission.
The Commission hereby confirms that a landing right licence was offered to MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd, a company duly registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria and operating as a local Nigerian company, after it had fulfilled all the rigorous processing requirements of the Commission which lasted for over a period of not less than six months and approved by the Board of the Commissionâ€.
Muoka added that â€œthe current Nigerian laws allow for 100% ownership of any business in Nigeria by a foreign entity.Â Therefore ownership structure with respect to Nigerian registered businesses that apply for licence to do business in the ICT field, has never been a qualifying condition.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) acted within the existing laws of the Federal Government of Nigeria including the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 which requires the Commission to protect competition and not specific competitorsâ€.
He said that the Commission however took the liberty to investigate the veracity of the claims and confirmed that:
*Contrary to claims, Globacom never applied to the South African Government for any cable landing right license and hence the newspaper report that the company was denied the licence is not true.
*The Chief Executive Officer of Main One Cable Company informed the Commission that the firm applied for cable landing right licence in response to a Request For Proposal (RFP) published by the South African Government. Main One Cable applied as a foreign company registered under the laws of Mauritius. The company also did not apply as a Joint Venture with any South African company nor as a South African registered company.
He averred that based on those confirmations, there could actually not be any existing evidence of any company that actually registered a local company in South Africa, applied for a licence and was subsequently denied a cable landing licence.
Muoka said that NCC expected that this pronouncement based on the painstaking investigation it undertook over the matter, should put the issue at rest, in order not to raise problems that otherwise do not exist.