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NBC in Information and Culture Ministry: A grave misplacement

By KAYODE AHMADU

Culture
A digital broadcast studio

ALL players in the broadcasting value chain, from equipment manufacturers to content providers, are being affected by the impact of rapid evolution of broadcast technology and the growth of broadband internet access. These developments demand higher technical quality with improved coverage and improved efficient utilisation of spectrum from regulators, who have to be strong and efficient in their drive to deliver bespoke first in class broadcast services. The need, therefore, of commensurate technical capacity and know-how cannot be over emphasized.

Regulation, both on international and regional levels, require high  technical skills and knowledge in order to manage frequency  Spectrum and, in particular, decisions adopted at high levels of International Telecommunications Union, ITU, which is a United Nations specialised agency formed to “facilitate international connectivity in communications networks”. Frequency spectrum is allocated globally by ITU and it also develops technical standards to ensure standardisation in the ICT world.

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As we are now in the age of Information Communication and Technology, ICT, it is apposite to take a close look at the meaning of the term ICT. The ICT is made up of Information Technology, IT, which relates to computer hardware, software and peripherals; and communications technology which involves telecommunications and broadcasting. The current use of the term ICT is firmly established and it implies corresponding physical moves towards the convergence of service and technologies. In particular telecommunications and broadcasting can today use the same technology for transmission, e.g. information protocol, IP, technology, fibre optic cable, very small aperture terminals, VSATs and radio. Furthermore, transmission and frequency control are coordinated using information technology hardware and software like computers and software programmes. In line with the above, governments the world over are also ‘getting with the programme’ by making their policies and administration fit into an ICT or convergence model whereby the broadcasting, information communications and postal services are under the same Ministry and or, are regulated by the same super regulatory body, albeit called by varying names.

Let’s look at the ICT industry supervising structure of some countries that pioneered the development of ICT as well as countries with comparable levels of development to Nigeria:

  • The United States of America’s Federal Communications Commission, FCC, regulates both international and local communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable and is responsible for implementing and enforcing America’sCommunications Law and regulations. It is an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress. •The United Kingdom has its Office of Communications Ofcom established in 2003 to replace organisations, namely: Oftel, the ITC, the radio authority, the radio communications agency and the broadcasting standards commission. This includes spectrum management and auctioning. In addition, since 2011 it took over Postcomm’s functions to include regulation of postal services. Along with 45 other public bodies. Ofcom supports the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, DCMS.
  • In Malaysia, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, MCMC, regulates the communications and multimedia industries based on the powers provided in the  Malaysian Act 1998 and Strategic Trade Act 2010. Apart from  pursuing the government’s policy objectives for the sectors, MCMC oversees the new regulatory framework for the  converging telecommunication and broadcasting industries and  online activities. In 2001, postal services and licensing under the 1991 Act and the Certification Authorities under the Digital  Signature Act 1997 were added.
  • Nearer home, under its Ministry of Communication and Technology, Ghana has its National Communications Authority, NCA, which has the responsibility of regulating telecommunications, frequency spectrum, broadcasting authorisation, amateur radio licencing, numbering, standards and clearance, schedule of fees, amongst others.
  • South Africa has its Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, ICSA. It was established in July 2000 by merging the telecommunications regulator, the South African  Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, SATRA and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, IBA. In 2005, the postal regulator was included.

We can go on and on with scenarios in numerous countries but for the constraint of space. This trend enables countries to fully take advantage of convergence and its underlying concomitant benefits. A single knowledgeable and agile agency is ideal and more likely to bring about policies, activities, infrastructure and an enabling environment such as shared media and spectrum or facilitate services in under-served and unserved areas to bridge the digital divide.

In Nigeria, we still have separate regulators for the broadcasting  and telecommunications industries. Worse still, they are under separate ministries. Again, we need to ask the nagging questions: “Why is Nigeria still lagging behind? Why are we not conforming with this obvious global trend?” Thankfully, President Muhammadu Buhari has gone one step towards convergence by renaming the Communications Ministry as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. This is a development that is quite commendable and apt.

Government needs to take the next bold step of moving the NBC from its current misfit stead into a single super regulatory body for broadcasting and telecommunications sectors under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. This would automatically put Nigeria in step with universal best practices and prevailing trends, as we have seen in the examples mentioned above. The move would also position the NBC in a better environment  than it is presently, to tackle the challenges of ongoing Digital  Switch Over, DSO.

It is imperative to note that Nigeria has significant deadlines issues with this exercise and thus must take steps to ensure success this  time around. The success of the DSO is not negotiable as it would be of enormous economic benefit to the country and would also be greatly impactful on the quality of broadcasting services made  available to the citizens at large; not to mention its job creation potentials. In conclusion, domiciling NBC and its activities, especially the ongoing DSO, in the Information and Culture Ministry is a gross misplacement. It portends danger with grave consequences if the   needful is not done immediately.

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