InfraCos return licences over insecurity, topography of regions
•220 LGAs, nation’s broadband coverage undermined
Indications emerged at the weekend that two of the licensed telecoms Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) have returned their licences to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The Guardian gathered that these two operators cited the high level of insecurity and the topography of the individual regions under their purview as reasons for the return of their licenses.
Also, the issue of vandalism of telecoms infrastructure, which has refused to abate in these regions, coupled with delays at the ports for customs clearance and the challenge of foreign exchange scarcity, as part of the considerations on the part of the licensees.
The implications of this development is that the planned nationwide broadband deployment is being threatened, which could impact about 220 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the two regions, covering about 4,458km.
InfraCos are licenced by the NCC to provide Layer 1 (dark fibre) services on a commercial basis with a focus on the deployment of metropolitan fibre and transmission services, available at access points – Fibre-to-the-Node or neighbourhood (FTTN) – to seekers. They were licenced regionally for maximum impact and expected to cover the 774 LGAs.
The InfraCos were expected to cover access gaps, especially in underserved and unserved areas of the country and provide a wholesale layer to transmission services on a non-discriminatory open access price regulated basis.
The InfraCo licence costs N2.5 million for a 20-year period and is subject to renewals. There are, however, other payments such as administrative fees.
The InfraCo project started at the latter part of the administration of former Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, the late Dr. Eugene Juwah, in 2015. But it was reviewed, expanded and given a fillip by the current EVC, Prof. Umar Danbatta.
On December 8, 2021, The Guardian had exclusively reported how currency risks, delayed counterpart fund, insecurity had slowed the takeoff of InfraCos in the country, with many of the operators waiting for the Federal Government planned subsidy before moving to site.
Recall that during the tenure of Juwah, MainOne Cable Company Limited and IHS Limited got the first two licenses to cover Lagos and the North Central zone including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) respectively in November 2014.
After about three years, IHS returned the license to the commission over difficulties in securing right of way approval to deploy infrastructure in the North Central Zone.
Prior to the latest development, the licenced InfraCos are MainOne for Lagos, Zinox Technology Limited for Southeast and Brinks Integrated Solutions Limited for Northeast. Others are O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for Southwest, Fleek Networks Limited for Northwest, Raeana Consortium Limited for South-South and Broadbase Communications Limited for parts of the North Central.
On December 16, 2021, the NCC announced a five-month deadline to the InfraCos to deploy infrastructure in the regions allocated to them. But curiously, none of the licenses has shown good fate in the deployment of service. This is even as the NCC had put in place subsidies, whose disbursement will depend on the milestones attained by each operator.
The Guardian learnt that because of this new development and extraneous interests by multiple parties, a major review of the entire InfraCo project may be in the pipeline by the Commission.
Already, while Lagos was accorded a standalone entity, it was learnt that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy had suggested that Kano should be treated as an entity on its own with a licensed InfraCo to deploy infrastructure in the about 1, 334.34 km state.
Efforts to get NCC to comment on the development as of press time proved abortive as the Commission’s Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, neither replied nor honoured calls put across to his mobile.