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» » BEYOND TELECOMS REGULATION ,DANBATTA AS A ‘DIPLOMAT By Okoh Aihe
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That telecommunications services have gained traction in Nigeria can only be evidenced by the encouraging figures coming out of the industry. Apart from the monthly reports of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which put subscription figures at 226,426,215 connected lines for the month of July, 2016, 150, 262,066 active lines, 92,181,178 internet subscribers and a teledensity of 107.33 per cent within the same period, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also recently ascribed huge growth rate to the sector.

According to the NBS figures, the telecommunications sector of the Nigerian economy contributed N1.580trillion to gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2016, or 9.8 per cent, which represents an increase of 1.0 per cent points relative to the previous quarter.

The industry has thus been hailed for remaining very strong and ready to continue to churn out positive growth in very difficult moments as a testament to the possibilities that exist in the country, possibilities that will always remain attractive to the rest of the world if properly harnessed, packaged and projected.

Then enters Prof UmarGarbaDanbatta, Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). His vision is to take the telecommunications industry to new heights by undertaking constructive engagements with key stakeholders whose activities are quite capable of sustaining growth and promoting an industry that is primed to play a positively determinant role in making Nigeria a connected country.

This demands lots of movements and negotiations and, in fact, deep appreciation of each other’s relevance and importance in the build-out of a modern telecommunications ecosystem.

The foregoing forms the concourse of Prof Danbatta’s 8-Point Agenda which include: Facilitate Broadband Penetration, Improve Quality of Service, Optimize Usage and Benefits of Spectrum, Promote ICT Innovation and Investment Opportunities, Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership, Protect and Empower Consumers, Promote Fair Competition and Inclusive growth and Ensure Regulatory Excellence and Operational Efficiency.

An interesting part of the Agenda is that the various strands are quite measurable. They are also intricately linked in the way they impact on the industry. It is quite possible to look at the ground covered and the progress recorded within a defined period. Fortuitously, neither Danbatta nor the NCC which he heads is scared of being measured. It should be considered relevant here to note that the world has measured us since 2001 at the dawn of a new industry and has marked Nigeria as the country with one of the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world.

Instead the EVC has galvanized the Commission into reaching out to the various stakeholders with the assurance that an industry that enjoys harmony is more useful to everybody than a fractious one where stakeholders tend to contend for a little by way of tax. He is preaching the gospel of the big picture which provides a cover for all instead of a contentious few.

Danbatta has stated quite eloquently that “the regulator is not supposed to just sit down in an air-conditioned office. There is the need for him to go out from time to time and be seen to be discharging responsibilities diligently as the regulator of the telecommunications industry in all ramifications.”

At the Governors Forum the Commission made an impassioned presentation to explain how their actions constitute the non-technical factors that conspire to degrade quality of network and stem process of growth which in turn create clusters of service gaps. The Commission pointed the attention of the Governors to the existence of a National Economic Council Document which stipulates charges that should be paid whenever ICT infrastructure are being built. The document states that Telcos should pay N145 for a metre length of fibre rollout and another N20 of maintenance of the same infrastructure annually. But quite unfortunately some states charge as much as N8, 000 per metre of fibre rollout.

Regretfully, Danbatta observed that “there is no adherence to the provision of the NEC document and we are concerned about this indiscriminate regime of taxation that telecommunication companies experience, especially those that are involved in deployment of telecommunications infrastructure. These charges will obviously make it impossible for massive deployment of telecommunications infrastructure. So, this is what most people refer to as right-of-way issues. Big issues, on Right-of-Way, denial of access to sites and locations for deployment of telecommunications infrastructure. And the main issue is this very astronomical taxes that telcos are been subjected to and these are different amounts for different locations in the country,” he submitted.

Plus the meeting with the Governors Forum, the Commission is reaching out to the Governors individually to make exclusive presentations to them and also to tackle other sundry issues that exact on the industry negatively. To date the Commission has visited three Governors, namely: Mallam Nasir e—Rufai of Kaduna State, Alhaji Abubakar Ganduje of Kano Sate, and Governor IbinkuleAmosun of Ogun State. Arrangements are being put in place to reach out to other Governors.

The visits are a continuation of the Commission’s efforts to build bridges with the various stakeholders and other development partners to explain how our various activities conspire to knock down the efforts of the operators and how they inadvertently create clusters that deny their people telecommunications services.

There is also a pitch: the readiness of the Commission to make intervention in helping to take services to these clusters through a special budgetary provision of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF). Danbatta projects that about 40million people are domiciled in these clusters of service gaps which the Commission through the USPF will address progressively. He frowned at the development where people would have to migrate to some locations in order to make a phone.

“Such development,” he said, “flies in the face of our resolve, consistent with the 8-Point Agenda, to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of telecommunications services to the Nigerian people wherever their places of abode in the country.”

Danbatta is excited at the results already generated by the efforts of the Commission. In Kaduna State, Governor el-Rufai informed that the State has harmonized taxes which telcos will be charged for deployment of fibre; you will be paying the same amount of money irrespective of which part of the State you are rolling out services.

After listening to a compelling presentation by the Commission, Governor Amosun of Ogun State unsealed the 47 base stations that had been sealed by a particular ministry and magnanimously reduced the ground rent owned on them from N370m to N120m. Danbatta is grateful to the Governors for their understanding and readiness to embark on decisions that will accelerate deployment of telecommunications services to their people, and is further poised to ensure that such conversation is taken to any state of the country where there are issues.

“We intend to continue with this advocacy now that we have seen the benefits and we will continue to inform Nigerians about the progress we are making,” he said.

One of the cardinal programmes of government is to hit 30 per cent broadband rollout target by 2018. Danbatta’s gospel is that the telecommunications industry needs to have an unencumbered peace for the rollout to happen and for services to be available for Nigerians build an ICT compliant society.

Okoh Aihe, Head, Online and Special Publications of the Nigerian Communications Commission, wrote from Abuja

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