by: Olamide Adeniji

No doubt, the responsibilities of Nigerian Communication Commission, ably led by a versatile Executive Vice Chairman, who knows his onions, Prof. Garba Danbatta goes far beyond supervision of Telecommunication industries. The Commission has been active in implementing policies that border on Mobile Number Portability, frequency interference, illegal operation, promotion and lottery, telephone billing as well as cybercafé operation.

Effective regulation of the telecommunications sector has brought with it a lot of advantages for the Nigerian economy. It has been proven to result in greater economic growth, increased investment, better quality of service, higher penetration and more rapid technological innovation in any nation. To this end, modern international data show that a nation’s economic development depends largely on its overall progress in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria. NCC was created under Decree number 75 by the [Federal Military Government of Nigeria] on 24 November 1992, and was charged with the responsibility of regulating the supply of telecommunications services and facilities, promoting competition, and setting performance standards for telephone services in Nigeria. The Decree has been abrogated and replaced with the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003.

With the right leadership, under Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, NCC has successfully bridged the wide gap between Operators and the end users in telecommunication industry. It realizes that access to telecommunications is critical to the development of all aspects of a nation’s economy including manufacturing, banking, education, agriculture and government.

The NCC’s mandate to promote the growth of telecommunications by the licensing of competitive operators; introducing and maintaining transparent regulatory processes; protecting all operators and preventing the dominant ones from the misuse of their market power; protecting consumer rights; encouraging new and advanced services; and attracting investors to the industry has been seamless in the past years since Prof. Danbatta came on board as its Executive Vice Chairman and CEO.

The reviewed Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, has afforded the Commission a grand opportunity to achieve its objectives of fair competition, ethical market practices and optimal quality of service in the Nigerian telecommunications industry.

The Commission has developed regulations and guidelines on Quality of Service, competition practices, consumer protection, network interconnection, advertisements and promotions, collocation and infrastructure sharing; etc.

Over time, NCC has carried out various activities, including shutting down and/or imposing of sanctions against illegal operation of communication services, failure to provide minimum Quality of Service (QoS) and fraudulent registration and sale of pre-registered SIM cards.

In the course of about ten years, the Nigerian telecommunications sector has witnessed tremendous growth, though it is pertinent to add the fact that it still requires significant investment to improve service delivery.

According to a Researcher, as at 2014, the total number of subscribers was approximately 127 million, indicating a 78.9% penetration rate. The economic benefits of effective regulation include attracting new investments, providing needed infrastructure and creating innovative services. Over the years, there has been substantial private sector investments, increase in number of market players, unprecedented growth in networks, expanded geographical coverage, empowerment of the citizenry as well as employment creation. According to the rebased GDP data for 2013, the telecommunications and information technology services sector contributed 8.68% to the Nigerian economy, equivalent to N6.97 trillion ($44.3 billion) out of the total rebased GDP estimate of N80.22 trillion ($510 billion), thereby positioning the sector as the star performer in Nigeria’s rebased GDP figures. Recently, the Commission formally unveiled a telecommunications sector Code of Corporate Governance to further promote principles of accountability, responsibility, transparency, integrity, independence and ethical conduct for all types of companies operating in the telecommunications industry. (Facts gotten from Tope Lawal)

There are however, various bottlenecks affecting the effective regulation and growth of the telecommunications sector in Nigeria. They include: Quality of Service. This probably could be due to the astronomical growth in telephone subscription over the years. Due to this, the industry continues to grapple with the challenge of poor Quality of Service (QoS).

In 2013, the Commission proactively introduced the Mobile Number Portability, in order to create healthy competition among operators, enhance QoS and improve customer service delivery to the consumers. Meanwhile, The Commission has never spared the rod in lampooning any defaulting Operator. In 2014, it fined the three (3) Network Operators a total sum of N647.5million for failing to meet the prescribed KPIs for a particular period.

Another factor affecting QoS is the challenge of Right of Way (RoW) in the laying of fibre infrastructure. This is in addition to the recurrent cases of cuts in fibre optic cables and other communications infrastructure caused by construction projects across the states. Fibre is a key transmission element for broadband, therefore, challenges faced with regards to right of way, which determines the ease with which service providers can easily and quickly deploy or add new infrastructure at a given time and place, constitutes imminent threats to the Commission’s quest for broadband penetration in the country. Though, Prof. Danbatta has worked tremendously on this, through a collaboration with the National Assembly on enacting a bill that would protect Operators’ infrastructures in the country.

Unfortunately, vandalism to ICT infrastructure across the country, especially in the North, have become a major source of concern. Infrastructure have become objects of attacks by terrorists and other unscrupulous elements. Closely connected with this is the incessant stealing of generators used by the operators in running the base stations, which has further increased the cases of poor QoS in most areas of the country. Also, offices of telecommunications operators have come under the attack of these terrorist groups. These acts of sabotage not only lead to loss of revenue as well as expensive equipment to telecoms operators, but also poses major threats to national security.

It is against this background that the Commission has continued to seek government’s support to pass a bill to classify telecommunication infrastructure as a critical national resource and provide huge sanctions for any acts of vandalism against any infrastructure built by government or by the telecommunications operators.

The unbearable burden of Multiple Regulation or taxation is also worrying. Situations where two or more government Ministries, Departments and Agencies MDAs tax the same aspects of telecommunications operations from these operators. The associated setbacks and bureaucratic bottlenecks usually lead to project implementation delays that unduly increase the project cost, while occasioning network downtimes and QoS issues among others. Besides multiple-taxation which ultimately results, the situation presents significant regulatory discord that can ground telecommunications operations for months in severe cases with unsavoury implications for the national socio-economy.

Erratic power supply is a major challenge facing the telecommunications sector which equally requires urgent intervention from various stakeholders, especially the Federal Government. Investment by operators in independent power sources like generating sets is huge. Today, operators are wary of building new base stations because they require at least two (2) generators to operate each base station.

It is certain that, with the kind of leadership in NCC, the regime of multiple taxes and levies would be put in order to assist planning and forecasting for business endeavours and the economy. While it is accepted and common practice that taxes and levies form a veritable source of revenue for government, it is imperative that citizens should be able to determine or know in advance what taxes they are liable to pay.

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