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Ignored GSM Challenges

MOBILE telecommunication services, which Nigerians have relied on for the past 11 years, are probably at their worst state since the teething problems. The lingering issues of dropped calls, voice clarity and access to certain parts of the country have tasked subscribers’ patience.

Everything has been blamed for the situation. The telecommunication companies say poor infrastructure and vandalisation of their equipment are responsible for poor services. Consumers blame the companies’ greed while the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, disclosed only one of the companies was making profit.

At least all parties agree services are deteriorating. The disagreement is over the extent of the challenges and possible solutions. Internet services are also involved, even ones from providers other than the mobile telephone operators. The issues are wider than the Senate Committee on Communications accepts. Without a proper dissection of the situation, proposed solutions would not work.

Senator Gil Emeka Nnaji, Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, at a public hearing, asked GSM operators to leave the country if they would not improve services. The position, if implemented, is not a solution. Challenges exist in the industry, which the senator surely knows.

Years of dismissing the issues got us where we are. The legal framework under which the companies operate, gave them too much latitude. In the haste to embrace mobile telecommunication, Nigeria made many concessions to the operators. Tough questions about the future were not asked.

Moreover, basic infrastructure like electricity has worsened in the past 11 years. Expenses on provision of electricity (generators, diesel) have been rising. Further expenses on security have not stopped vandalisation of base stations, a major cause of poor services in many areas.

We are paying the price for piece-meal treatment of issues and years of delusion that the country could develop without investments in infrastructure. Many of the complaints mobile operators make are genuine. Government has failed in its responsibilities in many areas; it is not in a strong position to enforce regulations.

Beyond imposing penalties on the companies for poor services, what would government do? Suppose the companies pay the fines, but refuse to improve their services?

The National Assembly is part of the problem.  Its public hearings are perfunctory. They do not get to the root of problems they are meant to solve. What investments did government make in the past 11 years to support mobile telecommunication? Can government, when it is not playing its part, ask others to play theirs?

GSM services have become part of our lives. Their contributions to improved commercial and social transactions are well documented. The Senate can tackle GSM challenges –and other issues – with more profundity than threats.


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