REMARKS BY THE EXECUTIVE VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE NIGERIAN COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, PROF UMAR GARBA DANBATTA AT THE NITRA PROGRAMME HOLDING IN LAGOS ON SEPTEMBER 16, 2016
I want to thank the Nigerian Information Technology Reporters’ Association (NITRA) for the opportunity to make some comments at this auspicious occasion. I salute your vision which transcends daily information dissemination through your various platforms to providing a much needed platform to enrich the discourse on the health of the telecommunications industry.
The theme of your programme, The Impact of over Regulation of the Telecommunications Industry on Service Quality provides a haunting concern for us as regulators and for industry operators. You have said the Nigerian Communications Commission should look at the regulatory perspective of this subject of discourse.
We are encouraged by your concern because we can see that apart from the primary stakeholders of the industry there are so many people that are concerned with the health of the sector. Your fears are genuine as anything contrary to the good figures coming out of the industry will spell doom for a very promising sector.
The Nigerian Communications Act 2003 in Chapter 2, Part 1, says “There is established Commission to be known as the Nigerian Communications Commission with responsibility for the regulation of the communications sector in Nigeria.”
The full powers of the Commission to regulate the industry, promote competition, grant and renew licenses, facilitate investment and protect the interests of consumers, among others, are domiciled in the Act which today forms the major bedrock holding up the growth of the industry.
The operating word in your theme, over-regulation, connotes something dangerous and harmful to the telecommunications industry. It’s either we are too strict with what we are doing at the Commission to the extent that we are impacting negatively on the industry we are created to protect or there are other bodies whose incursion into the Commission’s terrain is creating too much discomfort for those operating in the sector.
Point number One: We are serious with our job at the NCC. But we also know the reason for our existence; to create and nurture an industry that serves the needs of our people. That thought is uppermost in our minds as we strive to create accessible and affordable telecommunication services across the country.
Point number Two: We do also agree that some sister agencies tend to be over zealous in trying to help us do our job and in the process create unnecessary difficulties for our operators. However, this is being addressed at the various levels of government and I can promise that the story will be much better very soon.
In spite of a seeming convolution of activities which affect the health of the industry, we stand here to acknowledge that there is always a good story to tell about the sector. As experienced reporters of the industry before being organizers of this event you are the ones who help tell most of the stories.
Early this month the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that Telecoms contributed N1.58trn to GDP in the Second Quarter. Please permit us to quote from one report.
“The telecommunications sector of the Nigerian economy contributed N1.580 trillion to gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2016, or 9.8 per cent, which represents an increase of 1.0 point relative to the previous quarter.
“According to a new data just released by National Bureau of Statistics, this is the largest contribution to GDP made from this sector in the rebased period, which emphasizes that growth in telecommunications has remained robust when compared to total GDP.”
In addition, our monthly data collection shows that the industry remains quite strong and defiant in the face of very challenging times. For instance, while the connected lines stood at 226,426,215 for the month of July, 2016, the active lines hovered on 150,262, 066 lines within the same period with 107.33. Internet subscriptions for the month of June 2016 stood at 92, 181, 178, down from 93, 600,505 recorded in the month of February, 2016. This shows perhaps, that at the moment people are concerned with voice communications than commitment to data.
But are we in a state of nirvana because our industry is able to withstand the times? Quite honestly, I will say an emphatic no, and this position is supported by what I have to say next.
Recall that early in the year we released an 8-Point Agenda which we hope would form a comprehensive roadmap to help rejuvenate the telecommunications industry and help bring more life and investment to the sector.
The 8-Point Agenda, followed by vision and strategy for implementation, which will help drive the Commission’s vision for the next five years are listed as follows:
1. Facilitate Broadband Penetration,
2. Improve Quality of Service
3. Optimize Usage and Benefits of Spectrum
4. Promote ICT Innovation and Investment Opportunities
5. Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership
6. Protect and Empower Consumers
7. Promote Fair Competition and Inclusive growth
8. Ensure Regulatory Excellence and Operational Efficiency
Concise as the foregoing may be and quite penetrative to the needs of the industry, what is actually quite fascinating albeit very encouraging is the process of implementation which at the moment is yielding some results. We are going to create time very soon to talk about this but let us pullout three items from the list and try to explain what we have been doing about them; and in fact how inexorably, they are linked to one another. The explanation may help throw light on what we are doing in respect of the theme under discussion.
The three items are: Facilitate Broadband Penetration, Improve Quality of Service and Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership.
I will start from the last, Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership and you will see how this forms a rope that ties everything together. For over a decade, some of the most intractable problems of the industry were the discordant relationship among government agencies, and the relationship between the industry and the various governments and environments where they operate.
Taking a dispassionate look at the situation, the Commission under the new management decided to reach out to other agencies and the state governors with the view to convince them to take another look at the industry and create environments that will favour operators and thus be able to contribute more in terms of investment, employment and taxes. This course of action,which we will want to describe as quiet diplomacy, is helping to bring some needed stability to the sector.
We have met with their Excellencies under the Governors Forum. We have told them about the existence of a document put together by the National Economic Council which spells out charges on telco infrastructure rollout. This document stipulates charges of N145 per metre of fibre and another N20 for maintenance. There are some states where they charge as much as N8, 000 per metre length of fibre!
We are reaching out to their Excellencies, the Governors, individually to drive home our point of view and we are happy to announce here that the states we have visited understand our story. We were in Kaduna State where, His Excellency, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai who in other times has done so much for the telecommunications industry, is in strategic alliance with us to improve the fortunes of the industry, and by extension that of the State. We were in Kano State; and also recently visited Ogun State. In these States we noticed infrastructure gaps where the Commission can make intervention through some budgetary provisions, and highlighted issues that trouble the industry. Some of the issues are right of way, double taxation or even some kind of environmental charges resulting in closure of base stations. They have all promised to work with us.
Ogun State presented and interesting story. Before our visit to His Excellency, Governor Ibikunle Amosun, about 47 base transceiver stations had been shut down by the Ministry of Urban and Regional Planning. Once the implications of such closure were explained to the His Excellency, and a strong intervention made by the Commission, he immediately directed the Commissioner in charge to take action and reopen them.
One of the operators was owing N370m on ground rent for those base stations. The Governor was magnanimous enough to slice it to N120m. Such is the result that our quiet diplomacy is yielding.
But you look at it. There are various actions that result in over-regulation. What we are not careful to study sometimes is how those actions negate the efforts of the operators and degrade the quality of the networks.
One of our focus areas is to facilitate Broadband penetration and be able to meet the nation’s 30 per cent Broadband rollout target by 2018. This can only happen in a harmonious environment where the operators are encouraged to rollout, where the regulator and other important relevant stakeholders are not encumbered with unnecessary distractions.
We want to create a win-win situation for the telecommunications industry and the host communities of service providers but over-regulation will continue to be a barrier. My charge to you today as reporters and valued stakeholders of the industry is not to begrudge anybody for their actions but to use your knowledge of the industry to explain why certain actions should not be taken. It is in our collective interest for the industry to continue to post strong figures attesting to the impact of the telecom sector in our social and economic development.
I thank you for your attention.
Prof Umar Garba Danbatta,
Lagos, September 16, 2016