Government’s interest in regulating telecoms services and the agitation of telecoms service providers against excessive regulation, are conflicting to the detriment of subscribers, writes Emma Okonji
Since the rollout of the services of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001, telecoms service providers and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels have always had conflicting issues concerning regulation of the telecoms sector that currently contributes N1.58 trillion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Although the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is the major regulator empowered by NCC Act 2003 to regulate the telecoms sector, government agencies from the three tiers of government have also become interested in regulating the same sector in their various domains.
The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), for instance, is a federal government agency backed by NESREA Act 2007 to protect and develop the environment, and the agency had in several occasions, sealed up Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) of telecoms operators, in an attempt to regulate the environment in which telecoms service providers operate.
At the state level, different states have empowered different agencies to regulate telecoms operations in their states. Lagos State for instance, empowered the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), to regulate telecommunications in the state.
At the local government level, agencies have also sprung up, empowered by the local government councils to regulate telecommunications at the local government areas, where there are telecoms masts and base stations.
In the process of regulation, agencies have designed several methods of collecting fees and levies from the operators. And the operators are saying that the action of government amounts to over-regulation of the sector that is contributing so much to the country’s GDP, and they want such action stopped with immediate effect. Operators have threatened to pass the financial burden on subscribers by increasing tariffs, based on the charges and levies they get from the federal, state and local governments. Some of the operators have even threatened to cut off telecoms service supply to areas where the regulation is unbearable.
In order to address the conflict between government and the operators, the Nigeria Information Technology Reporters’ Association (NITRA) organised a forum in Lagos at the weekend, sponsored by Airtel Nigeria, to discuss the grey areas of regulation and over-regulation in the telecoms sector.
ATCON’s view on telecoms regulation
President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, who was represented at the forum by the first vice president of the association, Mr. Anthony Nwosu, described telecoms regulation outside the NCC regulation as over-regulation that could stifle the growth of the industry.
Teniola insisted that NCC should be the only regulator in the telecoms industry.
Speaking on the implication of multiple regulations, Teniola said: “There is no doubt that the incessant shut down of telecoms facilities by multiple regulatory bodies have an adverse effect on the quality of services offered by operators in the industry. The outages occasioned by these shut downs negatively impact quality of service indices such as reduced call completion rates, increased call drop rates, increased voice quality impairment, and transmission quality impairment. The overall implication of these is heightened consumer dissatisfaction with the quality of services provided by operators.
Other implications of over-regulation in the telecoms industry, according to him, include delay in broadband rollout; death or extinction of telecommunications companies; forceful relocation of telecoms operators to neighbouring countries; loss of jobs, occasioned by the closure of companies; and diversion of investment meant for telecoms industry to other sectors.
Counting the gains of the telecoms industry and its contribution to the country’s GDP, which is put at N1.58 trillion or 9.8 per cent, as at June this year, Adebayo called for caution in regulating the telecoms industry, in order to avoid the same challenges that forced many businesses and companies out of business.
According to him, “While under regulation will lead to chaos and high security risks, over regulation will limit the use and application of dynamics of modern technology and also limit access to global trade and knowledge. We must continue to debate these issues in order to guarantee the sustainability of our technology development.”
Adebayo called for the removal of all bottlenecks in the way of securing right of way and permits among others in other to provide better access, achieve the desired national broadband objectives of 30 per cent penetration by 2018 and provide affordable services for the over 157 million subscribers across networks.
Airtel insists on collaboration
Director, Legal and Regulatory Affairs/Company Secretary, Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Shola Adeyemi, in his presentation, said there was need for stronger collaboration of relevant stakeholders, to address cases of multiple-taxation in order to ensure that service quality is improved upon for the ultimate benefit of subscribers and the country.
NCC’s view on multiple regulation
Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who was represented by the Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said as a regulator, NCC would strive to create accessible and affordable telecommunications services across the country.
Danbatta , however said: “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 telecoms 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.”
According to him, 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 NCC Act 2003, which today forms the major bedrock holding up the growth of the industry.
Speaking on the implications of over regulation, while calling for deeper collaboration between government and the operators, Danbatta said: “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 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 in telecoms regulation,” Danbatta said.
“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,” he added.
Speaking on government’s interest in regulating the telecoms sector, the General Manager of LASIMRA, Mr. Babajide Odekunle, who was represented by the Head of Commercial at LASIMRA, Mr. Adekunle Adeyinka, said LASIMRA was established in 2004 under the Laws of Lagos State No 23 Volume 37, in order to ensure a one stop agency for all issues regarding utility infrastructure ranging from Water, Gas, Power and Telecommunications.
“This mandate ranges from conception, project management, development and maintenance of all such infrastructure in order to ensure orderly urban development,” Odekunle said.
He insisted that the agency would not do anything to stifle the growth of the telecoms sector that is contributing so much to GDP, aside enriching live styles of people and creating job opportunities.
“LASIMRA has been a fore runner in promoting ease of doing business in Lagos State as issues of over regulation or multiplicity of taxes, levies and charges are completely eliminated,” Odekunle added.
“Under my leadership, LASIMRA has engaged with NCC in order to ensure that support is given to operators in the areas of infrastructure deployment and service delivery,” he said.
Although all parties involved in telecoms regulation have reasons to do so, it is, however, important that all parties have better understanding to avoid conflicting issues.