‘Limited infrastructure putting pressure on QoS’
Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), spoke with journalists on several key industry issues, including the increasing interconnect debt, challenges confronting broadband deployment, MTN listing, among others. He stressed that the Commission was working to ensure subscribers get good telephony service, but that limited infrastructure remains a major challenge. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, Head, Communications and Technology, who was there, presents the excerpts.
Despite NCC’s efforts, poor quality of service remains. When will consumers have respite?
Limited telecoms infrastructure is a big challenge to service quality and Nigeria needs additional deployment of BTS to change the narrative.
We need more deployment of telecoms infrastructure to provide the additional capacity that is needed to improve service quality.
Other challenges include cable cuts, disruption in electricity supply among others.
NCC has the ability and capacity to monitor quality of service across the country.
We can use our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to identify areas of poor service quality and trace the operator involved in it and direct such operator to fix it up, but the challenge with operators is insufficient telecoms infrastructure.
We have resolved to use the option of fine as the last resort to address poor service quality, but we must continue to monitor the networks and encourage deployment of additional telecoms infrastructure.
What is the commission doing about unused telecoms licenses that are in the hands of some telecoms operators?
NCC has introduced regulatory measure that encourages spectrum trading.
It helps operators to trade their idle spectrum through leasing or transfers.
The regulatory measure was put in place to prevent owners of spectrum from keeping to themselves, spectrum that is not in use.
Spectrum licences are national resources that should not be kept unutilised.
The NCC has the capacity to monitor the use of spectrum that we have assigned to operators and if we discover anyone that is not being used to provide telecoms services, we can revoke such license.
We call on all operators to take advantage of the framework put in place on spectrum trading, leasing, sharing or transfer.
Nigeria is the only country that has such regulatory framework and I will be speaking about it in the next Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.
We will continue to provide proactive regulation, by taking appropriate steps before the challenge occurs.
What can we say has been responsible for the fall in telecoms sector investment, especially FDIs?
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Nigeria in telecoms is still on the increase.
I do not have the figure for 2017, but government is doing things to further boost FDI through the Executive Order on the ‘Ease of Doing Business.’
Again, telecoms contribution to GDP is on the increase. We are making efforts to woo investors to come and invest in the telecoms sector of the country.
Then, how do we explain the increasing Interconnect debt, which is threatening the telecoms sector?
Today, we see increase in the accumulation of interconnect debts among operators.
Some operators are heavily indebted to others over interconnect termination fees, but our position is that those owing interconnect fees must pay such fees without further delay.
Interconnect debt is made of two components: the facility and infrastructure components.
When calls are terminated on other networks, the networks where the calls are terminated must be paid their termination fees.
The NCC is worried about the accumulated huge debts from interconnectivity, which currently stood at over N165 billion and we have summoned operators and advised them to pay up their interconnect debt promptly.
But be that as it may, no operator can disconnect another operator on the ground of interconnect debt, except by the express permission from NCC. Disconnection will be a measure of last resort and cannot be done without the approval of NCC.
But the number of Internet Service Providers (ISP) are reducing, what is the regulator doing on this?
Indeed, we have seen distortions in the ISP market, especially where telecommunication operators have diversified into offering Internet services to their subscribers.
The distortion is squeezing smaller operators out of market, but one way that could better address the distortion is to divide the market into wholesale and retail trading to separate the bigger operators from the smaller operators, but I do not know if the market is matured now for such separation.
A time has however, come for NCC to look at the situation and sensitise the market.
Part of the negotiation between MTN and the Federal Government over the 2015 MTN fine was that the telecoms company will be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, but MTN is yet to do that. What happens if it fails to list by 2019 when it will complete payment of the fine money?
If it fails to list by 2019, that will be a breach of the settlement agreement that the NCC reached with the telecoms company.
It was an agreement that was signed, sealed and delivered, so anything short of it will be breach of agreement.
In terms of payment, MTN is meeting up with the payment agreement plan for installment-based payment.
So far it has paid N165 billion, which is 50 per cent of the total fine of N330 billion.
They are due to pay another N55 billion by December this year and will complete payment by 2019.
The initial fine was N1.04 trillion, for failure to deactivate unregistered SIM cards from its network, but the fine was later reduced to N330 billion at the end of all negotiations.
Let’s talk about broadband, how has the country fared?
On the assumption of office in 2015, we unveiled the 8-point agenda for the telecoms industry, among which is the broadband plan. We are key at driving broadband penetration in the country.
Before we came on board in 2015, there was a Presidential Broadband Committee set up by the federal government and the committee was jointly chaired by the former Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr. Earnest Ndukwe and the chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia. The committee did a good job in coming up with a detailed five- year National Broadband Plan (NBP) from 2013-2018.
On page nine of the NBP, it stated that broadband penetration, as at 2012, was between four and six per cent and there were measures through which broadband penetration could be achieved.
Achievement of broadband penetration is not the responsibility of NCC alone, but a combined responsibility of NITDA, NigComSat, Galaxy Backbone, including critical stakeholders like telecommunications operators.
NCC and other agencies of government were given their roles to play in other to achieve faster broadband penetration. The NBP stated that the country must achieve five-fold in broadband penetration, but this of course depends on the minimum and maximum thresh hold.
By multiplying four per cent minimum level of broadband by five, which represents the five years broadband plan, it will give 20 per cent minimum broadband target and by multiplying six per cent maximum broadband penetration as at 2012 by the five years broadband plan, it will give 30 per cent broadband penetration, which is maximum target at the end of 2018.
But Nigeria had in 2017, surpassed the minimum target of 20 per cent, working towards achieving the maximum target of 30 per cent by the end of 2018. This is according to the NBP.
As of today, Nigeria has achieved 22 per cent broadband penetration, and it is close to achieving the 30 per cent target.
The achievement in broadband penetration, gave rise to the first phase licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to drive broadband infrastructure deployment that will enable broadband penetration.
The licence was planned to cover six geopolitical zones of the country, as well as Lagos that was mapped out as a zone for the purpose.
MainOne was licensed to cover Lagos Zone, iConnect, a subsidiary of IHS was granted license to cover the north-central zone.
These two zones were licensed before I came on board as NCC’s EVC, and it was during my tenure that we licensed additional five zones.
They included north-west, north-east, south-west, south-east and south-south.
The beauty of the license is that it is cheap because the NCC is not keen at making so much money in licenses.
The NBP specified the roles of government agencies in achieving 30 per cent broadband penetration by the end of 2018.
To what extent have they been able to achieve their specific roles?
Yes, all government agencies that are drafted to drive the broadband policy, were given specific roles but I cannot speak for them on the extent to which they have accomplished their roles.
However, I know that they are all party to the implementation of the broadband penetration.
The National Information Technology Development Agency of Nigeria (NITDA), for instance, has the responsibility to drive capacity building, but NCC is the arrowhead among all other government agencies in driving broadband penetration and we have done so well to achieve over 70 out of the total 30 per cent maximum broadband target for Nigeria.