By Emma Okonji
Industry stakeholders, under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), has called for the review of the Critical National Infrastructure Bill that was not passed into law before the expiration of the eight National Assembly on May 29, 2019.
The bill, which seeks to protect telecoms infrastructure across the country, sees telecoms infrastructure as a critical national asset that needs government’s protection from willful destruction, inadvertent destruction during road construction and from arbitrary shutdown of telecoms sites by social miscreants, government contractors and government agencies. ALTON is of the view that when protected, it will support fibre optic infrastructure rollout that will eventually drive down broadband costs and boost internet connectivity across the country.
Head, Operations at ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Awonuga told THISDAY of the association’s plan to revisit the bill, review it and make necessary amendments, before re-submitting it as a private bill and get someone from the National Assembly to sponsor it as a private bill.
He said ALTON was also weighing the option of considering the Cybersecurity Act that was passed into law in 2015, and explore the section that gives the President of Nigeria, the power to make declaration in the form of Executive Orders, through the advice of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
“We are currently weighing both options and whichever works out, we will gladly hold on to it,” Awonuga said.
ALTON had in 2011, saw the need for a Critical National Infrastructure Bill that will protect telecoms infrastructure in the country, and decided to draft a document that was sent to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Ministry of Communications for ratification and onward transmission to the National Assembly.
ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, who confirmed that the bill was actually transmitted to the eight National Assembly, however, said the bill suffered some setbacks as members of the eight National Assembly could not pass it before the expiration of their tenure in May 2019.
Adebayo said the bill remained critical because when passed and assented to by the President of the country, it would go a long way to address several hiccups like poor service quality, Right of Way (RoW) issues, multiple taxation and incessant closure of telecoms sites by government agencies.
Listing the importance of the bill in telecoms growth and development, Awonuga said it would enhance widespread rollout of telecoms infrastructure like fibre optic cable across the country, to complement Satellite infrastructure rollout through VSAT that has to do with radio links to transmit capacity from one base station to another, which he was more expensive than fibre optic connections that has to do with laying of fiber cables that are cheaper to connect from point-to-point, to cover last-mile connectivity.
“Over time operators are not given RoW permit by state and federal government agencies to rollout fibre optic cables, and when the permit is eventually given, government agencies come with all manners of levies and threaten to stop work at sites when payments were not made. Again road contractors end up exhuming the fibre optic cables during raid constructions, and in the process, damage a lot of them without due recourse to telecoms operators. But if we have the Bill protecting these telecoms infrastructure, it becomes a punishable offense for anyone, including government agencies to destroy telecoms facilities or arbitrarily stop work at telecoms sites ” Awonuga said.
According to him, the idea of deploying 5G technology and have smart cities with high level of internet connectivity will not be feasible, if the country fails to address the issue of the critical national infrastructure bill.
Awonuga called on members of the ninth National Assembly to use their good office to ensure the passage of the Bill before the end of the year, giving its importance in telecoms growth and development.