In a bid to ensure a robust and efficient regulatory framework in the system, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC has commenced the process of harmonizing new regulatory guidelines for the telecommunications industry.
At a stakeholders event to finalize the process in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Eugene Juwah explained that the exercise was part of the Commission’s rule-making process aimed at ensuring wide consultation in the development of regulatory instruments by the Commission in accordance with the Nigerian Communications Act.
The EVC said the new guideline had become an invaluable asset in ensuring that the opinions and inputs of stakeholders are considered in developing a sound regulatory framework for the Nigerian telecommunications industry.
Juwah noted that the draft enforcement regulations which formed the second segment of the public enquiry was an amendment of the previous regulations issued to the industry in 2005, adding that the regulation was amended to reflect best practices in the industry.
The regulation when finalized, the EVC said, will provide a more robust framework for efficient processes for carrying out enforcement in the industry.
According to the Commission, the regulations and guidelines will complement the Act and the respective Licenses by the Commission in addition to providing guiding standards and principles for enforcement processes and Sim replacements in the industry.
“This effort by the commission will further ensure that the industry adopts international best practices while taking into consideration our peculiar operating environment,” said the EVC.
Under the amended Enforcement Processes Regulations, the new draft enforcement is of the Regulations issued in 2005. NCC said they provide a more robust framework for effective and efficient processes for carrying out enforcement in the industry.
According to the Commission, regulations under this process were amended to align with practice and trends in the industry.
Justifying the increase of most fines in the old draft, NCC explained that previous fines failed to serve the purpose of deterring repeated contraventions.
It added that principle of fairness and transparency were taken into consideration in the amendments, while submissions received from stakeholders were duly considered and where necessary incorporated.
General Process and Procedure for exercise of NCC’s Powers
For instance, under the new enforcement framework, it is criminal for any operator to provide false subscriber information during registration; as condition for releasing seized items or sealed premises, it would require the licensee to either regularize its operations or comply with the prescribed sanctions. Also, operators are now allowed to retain Call Data records for a period of 12 months in their data bank.
Grounds for revocation of license
These includes: failure to provide service for a continuous period of 30 days; inability of the licensee to pay any amount due under its license condition; failure to obtain type approval of equipment or facilities; failure to commence full licensed operations and providing misleading information in license application.
Some new fines
N250,000 for unauthorized Sim Replacement; N200,000 for every individual contravention in failure to capture subscriber information; N100,000 for sale of pre-registered Sim card and N5,000,000 for each Sim Card order breached or other instruments issued by the Commission where a specific penalty is not specified in the Act.
Guidelines on Sim Replacement
The guidelines according to NCC were principally intended to prescribe a standard procedure for Sim Replacement to be used by network Service Providers.
Head of Legal services in the Commission, Mrs. Akintoye Yetunde, also at the Public Inquiries said the draft Sim Replacement Guidelines aimed at creating and providing a seamless, effective and efficient procedure for Sim replacement in Nigeria.
Also she said the intention was to ensure a secure process for Sim replacement and curtail the incidents of fraudulent replacements which have now become rampant in the industry.
Yetunde further explained that the OSR can only be carried out either through the National Service Providers’ (NSPs) website or self-service terminal.
According to her, the NSPs are expected to create on their websites platforms where subscribers can login to carry out Sim Replacement using a unique identification and PIN issued by the NSP.
The subscriber, she said would however, be required to purchase a new Sim card to which the information of the old Sim card would be transferred.
To activate the sim, the NCC’s head legal unit said, a replaced sim must be activated within two hours once the verification of subscriber information had been carried out.
She however warned that the NSPs shall be held liable for any Sim replacement carried out in violation of the guidelines or done fraudulently by its agent or dealer.
As part of measures to ensure the credibility of the system, she said the NSPs under the new guidelines are expected to carry out quarterly audit of sim replacement transactions carried out by both its staff and agents and a report forwarded to the Commission.
In the similar vein, the Commission rejected sim replacement via phone calls.
According to the Commission, the reason was to forestall possible abuse of the process by fraudsters but promised to review the decision in future.
In her submission, the business Manager of Airtel Nigeria, Mrs. Chioma Orakwute argued against the Commission’s position on Sim replacement procedure which placed a ban on Sim replacement via phone calls, insisting that such condition would put so many subscribers out of communication, especially those in the remote areas that lack internet facilities.
Also in his own comment, the Director, Customer Care Services in Etisalat, Mr. Plato Syrimis urged the Commission to approach the amendment process in line with best practices and in a manner that would benefit all concerned.
In a previous exercise, some stakeholders had openly disagreed with the Commission on its planned introduction of lawful interception and licensing regulations.
They argued that even though, the Commission is empowered in its Act to make regulations, such must pass through the legislative procedure to invalidate the existing laws in the constitution or else the whole effort becomes a waste.
The draft LI Regulations aims to provide a legal and regulatory framework for the lawful interception of communications in Nigeria as well as the collection and disclosure of intercepted communications.
Also, it is expected to specify the nature and type of communications to be intercepted, penalties for non-compliance and measures to safeguard the privacy of citizens as contained and guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, had at the occasion described the forum as part of the Communication’s rule-making process which aimed at ensuring wide consultation in the enactment of regulations for the industry.
In addition to the experiences garnered over time, Juwah noted that the process became crucial in ensuring that the opinions and contributions of stakeholders were considered in developing a sound regulatory framework for the telecommunications industry.
According to him, these regulations were expected to complement the Act and the respective Licenses issued by the Commission and will state the obligations of law enforcement agencies and operators in connection with the interception of communications.
Similarly, the draft Licensing Regulation are intended to provide a regulatory framework for effective and efficient licensing processes and procedures in the communications industry, including the operation of communications systems, facilities and services.
But contrary to NCC’s view, the Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Ghenga Sesan, said though the initiative was commendable, but the effort would amount to nothing if the Commission fails to subject the draft to legislative scrutiny. He said that as it were, the regulations are merely secondary legislations to the existing laws.
‘‘I think it is a great idea that NCC called this meeting. One of the things stated here is that what NCC is introducing is a regulation, which is a secondary legislation. Definitely, it cannot come against the constitution. The constitution guarantees the rights of the citizens to communications.
“Even though, there are issues of insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria, but what we cannot do is to do the right thing in a wrong way. What we are suggesting to NCC is to go through legislation process through the National Assembly and make what it has drafted available to be passed into law.
“At the moment we have existing laws, if this regulation ever comes up in court against the constitution, it will be a waste of time and resources because the constitution will win.’
“We did not organize election in 2011 until the electoral Act was amended. Forces came together for it to be done. There is a reason for law. The NCC knows what to do, they have an Act and can rely on it to know where legislation becomes law,” he added.
Also speaking, the Chief Corporate Services Officer, Tobe Okigbo, said though NCC has the power to make regulations, formulating new legislations for lawful interception of communications and licensing were not necessary since the issues were taken care of in the Cybercrime law.
He argued that telephone conversation is a fundamental right of the citizens and that it would make no sense to formulate new laws inferior to the existing laws in the constitution.
“The Act says the NCC can make regulations for the fulfillment of its purpose. So its power for regulation is not in doubt. There is only one contention with NCC. If you look at the section 37 of the constitution, it says, your telephone conversation is privileged.
“The regulation is beautifully done, taken into cognizance the international best practices. The issue is, do they have the power to do what they are trying to do? I say no because there is a law already in place and they say yes. Since, there is no fixed point in law, I think they cannot derogate the power to themselves because it is a fundamental human right.”
Earlier in her presentation, the Head of Legal Services in NCC, Mrs. Akintoye Yetunde, insisted that the Commission was right in the procedure it followed in processing the new legislations.
The NCC Act 2003, according to her, allows the Commission to make regulatory frameworks without recourse to the National Assembly as suggested by some stakeholders.
Her words: “We find out that our Act cannot provide everything. This is why we have a lot of regulations. This is in furtherance of what has already been put in place. It’s nothing new. Besides, it is obtainable in other jurisdictions. Nigeria is not isolated in this.”