NCC’s Approval Rattles Telcos as ATC Exonerates Smile

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By Emma Okonji

Telecoms operators (Telcos) have been unsettled over recent approval granted IHS and ATC Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to disconnect telcos from their facilities as a result of their indebtedness to the facility operators.

The telcos are afraid that they may lose their subscribers as well as huge revenue, if disconnected from their facilities.

The NCC gave the approval for the disconnection and explained that the telcos had no reason to owe facility operators.

However, in order to allay the fears of subscribers of Smile Communications, one of the telecoms companies listed for disconnection, ATC Nigeria has confirmed that Smile Communications Nigeria is not indebted to it.

To affirm Smile’s non-indebtedness, ATC has also withdrawn the earlier disconnection notice.

ATC Nigeria confirmed the payment of all legacy amount due from Smile Communications.

ATC Nigeria in a letter dated 18th December to the NCC, withdrew the notice of disconnection.

According to a very reliable source close to both ATC and Smile Communications, ATC’s request to NCC was premised on the payment of all legacy amount due to ATC by Smile Communications.

Sources from both organisations confirmed that whatever was outstanding related to exchange rate differentials have been addressed. Both organisations are currently exploring new tower agreement that will be naira denominated and would be mutually beneficial to support Smile Communications Nigeria long term rollout plan.

According to them, the legacy debts from most telecoms operators to tower vendors mostly arose as a result of the devaluation of the naira by over 40 per cent in 2016, which brought about a significant increase in tower lease rental, considering that the tower agreements were denominated in dollars.

Moving to a naira denominated contract would ensure sustainability of telecommunications’ business and facilitate expansion of broadband services across the country to fuel economic development and social engagement, the source said.

Meanwhile, the NCC has assured telecoms subscribers that the disconnection order would not affect any telecoms subscribers, since as a regulator, it has a duty to protect telecoms subscribers always.

Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management at NCC, Mr. Sunday Dare, who gave the assurance in Abuja at the weekend, clarified that the approval given by the NCC was not for any network to disconnect subscribers as being wrongly perceived, but for some creditor networks to restrict services to debtor networks.