The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC penultimate week, let out a loud cry over the impending doom that may befall the telecom industry due to the perennial epileptic power supply in the country.
It specifically hammered at how the gains of Fifth-generation network, 5G will be eroded in Nigeria on the account poor power supply.
The commission said that Nigeria being the first West African country to carry out a trial of the revolutionary technology will amount to nothing by the time the ills of poor power supply visit the 5G services.
At a separate forum last week, it also hammered on the challenges militating against best quality of telecom services in Nigeria, which included fibre cuts by incessant road constructions and repairs, exorbitant and un-harmonised Right of Way, RoW charges at all levels of government. Others include rampant telecom facility destruction, vandalisation and theft.
All these were also part of the challenges the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof Umar Danbatta reeled out to the Senate Committee on Communications during a courtesy call at the commission’s headquarters recently
The committee, led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, APC, Lagos Central, was on a familiarisation and fact-finding tour to the commission, apparently, following numerous complaints about poor quality of service, costly data services among others and how the NCC are not blinking an eyelid against all of them.
However, in an emotion laden voice, Danbatta took time to explain the problems of the industry and the national Assembly support needed to get the industry cracking.
Danbatta, began with industry statistics, briefing the committee members that Nigeria attained 38.49 percent broadband penetration by December 2019; grew number of active subscribers to 184,699,409 by December 2019.
This is while active internet subscription by GSM rose to 125.7 million; Fixed wired is 9,670, VoIP 341, 001, as teledensity grew to 96.76 as at December, 2019. He also claimed that total contribution of the Telecom industry to GDP stood at 10.60 percent
According to him, “the NCC, through the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) has reduced the number of access-gaps clusters in the country further from 114 which has also reduced drastically the 38 million Nigerians affected by access gap clusters.
“We have also licensed six Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) from the six geo political zones of the country, to cascade fibre optic into the hinterland to reach all the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country. This idea is succeeding and will bolster government’s effort at expanding the nation’s broadband infrastructure”
Danbatta said the NCC developed Spectrum Trading Guidelines to enable operators in possession of un-utilised or under-utilised frequency spectrum to trade such limited assets in the secondary market place, thus freeing resources and eliminating spectrum hoarding.
Another of the commission’s efforts at extending services to rural areas is the plan to leverage the television white space (TVWS) technology to extend affordable broadband services to Nigerians in the digitally excluded areas:
He promised that the commission will ensure effective and proper utilisation of available wireless spectrum frequency resources for widespread service deployment to Nigerians.
Danbatta also told the committee that the trial of Fifth Generation (5G) network in Nigeria was preparatory to its commercial deployment and is seen as a move that will improve digital services experience for Nigerians
Beyond all that, he said: “we have developed guidelines for commercial satellite deployment which has seen the registration of major satellite providers in the country. This will help to provide satellite-based broadband services to those hitherto excluded, among others.
“A regime of efficient management of scarce resources and spectrum is evident from successful auction of six slots of 2×5 MHz in the 2.6 GHz band, to re-planning of the 800 MHz band for LTE, and to assigning of 2×10 MHz spectrum to Glo Mobile for trial in the 700 MHz.
“Also from regularisation of 2×10 MHz Spectrum in the 700 MHz band previously assigned to MTN by NBC for the purpose of providing LTE services, to opening up 70/80 GHz band for both last mile and backhaul services, among other numerous spectrum managements, the impacts cannot be gainsaid”.
Direction on Data Roll-over
Danbatta expressed surprise that some people still feel the commission is treating operators with kid gloves and cited examples of different fines the commission has made the operators pay over infractions among other measures to keep them in check.
He, however, noted that to balance the industry is for the regulator to protect the laws of the land, the consumers and also the businesses of the investors.
In a similar vein, he said that the commission had issued a directive to service providers on data roll-over, enabling consumers to roll over unused data for period of time, ranging from one day to seven days, depending on the data plan, among other consumer-centric directives.
Danbatta also told the committee that “we have organized several engagements with the Nigeria Governors Forum on issues of Multiple Taxation and Multipple regulation. Examples are when the Commission engaged with the Governor of Ogun State to ensure 47 base stations were immediately unsealed. Also, in Kano State, our negotiations saw to N200 million being waived on levies; in Kogi State, recently, we secured the unsealing of 120 base station sites.
“The year 2017 was designated as the Year of the Consumer of the industry. When the campaign kicked off, fewer than 500 subscribers had activated the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb code initiated by the Commission in 2016 to tackle the menace of unsolicited telemarketing.
“By December 2019, more than 24million subscribers had activated the Do-Not-Disturb and counting. The Commission’s second layer complaint toll-free line, 622, has also become a beehive of activities”.
After rolling out achievements, Danbatta said it is not yet uhuru for the sector as several challenges bedevil progress. Part of the challenges, according to him, includes power. “This is one of the biggest challenges facing telecommunications operations in the country. The cost of providing power for base stations is huge.NCC is working assiduously to solve these challenges through recommending the use of environmentally sustainable energy sources to the telecoms Operators, like the use of Solar Energy to power the Base Stations.
“There’s also the issue of multiple regulations and multiple taxation. The unfair taxes and billing levied on Telcos constitute a drawback to infrastructure deployment in the telecoms sector. Engagements are ongoing with different tiers of Government and Government agencies at Federal, State and Local Government levels.
“We are not forgetting security challenges; theft of equipment; transmission cable cuts; delays in securing approval for sites for new base stations; harassment by some government agencies especially at the state level and Right of Way issues. If there are ways the National Assembly can help us with legislations that could ease these challenges, the sector will add more to the GDP” he added
Reacting to Danbatta’s speech, Tinubu who was almost in awe of the developments she apparently wasn’t earlier aware of, said: “We are here on a familiarisation and fact-finding tour to the commission but I must say that we are impressed by the presentation made by the executive vice-chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, on the activities of the commission so far in regulating the industry.
“Given the mammoth challenges facing the industry and the achievements of the commission so far, its regulatory interventions and performances deserve to be appreciated and commended.
“We particularly see the Platinum Category Certificate of Award for exceptional organisational performance which NCC received from the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) in 2017 as a testament to a performing agency of the Federal Government. However, we want you to do more for Nigerians.”
Tinubu promised that her committee will team with the NCC to fight against some of these challenges undermining the Nigerian telecoms industry, through legislative interventions.