Senate to work with NCC on sector’s challenges
•Telecoms regulator gets commendation, seeks interventions
The Senate Committee on Communications has expressed its readiness to work with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in addressing the various challenges bedeviling the sector.
This development came after the committee had listened to the NCC’s presentation on reforms and developments brought in by the Prof. Umar Danbatta-led administration.
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, who led other members of the team to NCC’s Head Office in Abuja, on a familiarisation and fact-finding mission at the weekend, said given the mammoth of challenges facing the industry and the achievements of the Commission so far, its regulatory interventions and performance deserves to be appreciated and commended.
The Committee members were received by the Executive Management team of the Commission, led by Danbatta, who gave insight into the core mandates of NCC, its various initiatives that have helped to improve wider access to telecommunications as well as the challenges in the regulatory environment, which formed the basis for the comments made by the Committee members.
Tinubu said the committee was 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.
“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 your recognition as a performing agency of the Federal Government. However, we want you to do more for Nigerians,” Tinubu said.
According to her, the NASS, and indeed the committee will work more with NCC to resolve identified challenges presented by the NCC.
Earlier in his address, the EVC, who craved the support of the National Assembly in resolving some issues bedeviling the sector, told the committee that urgent measures must be taken to address them.
Challenges seeking Legislative attention
Danbatta told the committee that Right of Way (RoW) charges are seriously affecting expansion of services by operators. Already, checks showed that against the agreed 145/per linear meter for RoW charges, states and their agencies superintending over telecommunication infrastructure have reneged on their promises, insisting on charging between N5000 and N6000 per meter.
This, Danbatta said is a serious disincentives to operators in the country.
The EVC also told the committee that power is another challenge facing telecommunications operations in the country. He said the cost of providing power for base stations is astronomical. Danbatta said 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.
The NCC boss also called on the NASS to help resolve cases of multiple regulations and taxation. He said the unfair taxes and billing levied on telcos constitute a drawback to infrastructure deployment in the telecoms sector.
Danbatta also informed that security challenges, including theft of equipment; transmission cable cuts, and all sort of vandalism are impacting service quality. He also hinted on delays in securing approval for sites for new base stations.
With assurance from the Senate Committee to help look into the matter, the NCC boss also reeled out industry statistics, which captured the growth recorded in the industry thus far.
Danbatta told the Remi Tinubu-led committee that Nigeria attained and surpassed 30 per cent broadband penetration target in December, 2018 and the penetration has further increase to 38.49 per cent as of December, 2019.
Also, Danbatta said the number of active phone lines has increased to over 185 million; active Internet subscriptions on global system for mobile communications (GSM), fixed wired and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) networks have equally increased to over 126 million.
The EVC added that teledensity is 96.76 per cent, and quarterly contribution of telecoms to gross domestic product (GDP) has reached 10.60 per cent. The NCC, through the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) has reduced the number of access-gaps clusters in the country further from 114. Hitherto, some 38 million Nigerians were affected by access gap clusters.
Danbatta stated that the Commission’s efforts in licensing Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to cascade fibre optic cable into the hinterland to reach all the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country, is succeeding and will bolster government’s effort at expanding the nation’s broadband infrastructure.
The EVC explained to the committee what the Commission has done, so far, with respect to spectrum administration in the sector. He stated that despite the crucial role of spectrum, and being a scarce resource, the Commission has deployed spectrum quite effectively for the development of the telecom industry.
Some of the clear goal-oriented programmes in that regard include development of spectrum trading, ongoing effort to leverage Television White Space (TVWS) to address rural connectivity, the Proof of Concept (PoC) non-commercial trial of Fifth Generation (5G) networks, and development guidelines on commercial satellites deployment.
According to him, the development of Guidelines for commercial satellite deployment, which has seen the registration of major satellite providers in the country, will help to provide satellite-based broadband services to those hitherto excluded, among others.
He disclosed that from the 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, the frenzy of activities is unmistakable, and there have been a regime of efficient management of scarce resources and spectrum.
Danbatta added that also from regularization of 2×10 MHz Spectrum in the 700MHz band previously assigned to MTN by NBC for the purpose of providing LTE services, to opening up 70/80GHz band for both last mile and backhaul services, among other numerous spectrum managements, the impacts cannot be gainsaid.
Direction on Data Roll-over and ECC commissioning
In a similar vein, the commission, Danbatta said also 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.
He said to promote and enhance public safety through the use of a particular number, which shall be designated as the Universal Safety and Emergency Assistance Number for telephone services generally, prompted the commissioining of Emergency Communications Centres across the country.
The NCC EVC said there have been several engagements with the Nigeria Governors Forum on issues of Multiple Taxation and regulation. Examples, according to him, were when the Commission engaged with the Governor of Ogun State to ensure 47 base stations were immediately unsealed, in Kano State, where N200 million was waived on levies, in Kogi State, recently, where 120 base station sites were reopened.
Danbatta said the year 2017 was designated as the Year of the Consumer of the industry. According to him, 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.
He disclosed that by December 2019, more than 24 million 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.