Assessing Telecoms Regulation

Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Garba Danbatta

Emma Okonji reviews the findings of the Senate Committee on telecommunications, led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, which penultimate week had on-the-spot assessment of the activities of the Nigerian Communications Commission

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, penultimate week, led other members of the committee to the Abuja head office of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), on a familiarisation and fact-finding visit.

They noted challenges facing the telecoms industry, ranging from the refusal to grant Right of Way (RoW) permit by federal and state government agencies for telecoms expansion, to incessant closure of telecoms sites by government agencies for refusal of telecoms operators to pay multiple taxes and charges, coupled with willful vandalism of telecoms facilities by social miscreants and during road constructions.
The committee however applauded the commission for its achievements so far.

The lawmakers were received by the Executive Management team of NCC, led by its Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who explained to them the commission’s core mandates, its various initiatives that have helped to improve wider access to telecommunications as well as the challenges in the regulatory environment,
Having been briefed on the regulatory performance of the NCC, coupled with the committee’s personal assessment of the telecoms industry, the committee chairman, Tinubu said the lawmakers were on a familiarisation and fact-finding tour to the Commission.

In his address, Danbatta reeled out industry statistics which, captured the growth recorded so far among other issues.
According to Danbatta, Nigeria attained and surpassed 30 per cent broadband penetration target in December, 2018 and the penetration has further increase to 38.49 per cent as of December, 2019.
He said the number of active phone lines had increased to over 185 million; active Internet subscriptions on global system for mobile communications (GSM), fixed wired and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) networks have equally increased to over 126 million.

The NCC boss added that tele-density reached 96.76 per cent, and that quarterly contribution of telecoms to gross domestic product (GDP) also reached 10.60 per cent. “The NCC, through the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) has reduced the number of access-gaps clusters in the country further from 114. Hitherto, some 38 million Nigerians were affected by access gap clusters,” Danbatta said.

He explained to the committee what the commission had done so far, with respect to spectrum administration in the sector. He stated that despite the crucial role of spectrum, and being a scarce resource, the commission had deployed spectrum quite effectively for the development of broadband in the telecom industry.

According to him, some of the clear goal-oriented programmes in that regard include: development of spectrum trading, ongoing effort to leverage Television White Space (TVWS) to address rural connectivity, the Proof of Concept (PoC) non-commercial trial of Fifth Generation (5G) networks, and development guidelines on commercial satellites deployment.

Danbatta stated that the commission’s efforts in licensing Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to cascade fibre optic into the hinterland to reach all the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country, was succeeding and would enhance government’s effort at expanding the nation’s broadband infrastructure.

Industry challenges
Danbatta, who appreciated the support of the National Assembly so far, however, listed key issues affecting the regulatory environment. These, he said, included: power, which is the biggest challenge facing telecommunications operations in the country, multiple regulations and incessant closure of telecoms sites by government agencies, security challenges, vandalism and theft of telecom installations and transmission cable cuts, as well as RoW issue.

The committee members assured NCC of their readiness to support the regulatory efforts of the Commission through legislative intervention and other collaboration towards addressing the challenges in the regulatory environment.
They also urged the NCC to focus more on increased access across the country as well as ensuring affordable telecoms services for Nigerians.

So far, the NCC has deactivated additional 2.2 million improperly registered SIM cards from across all telecoms network. In order to ensure that all registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards are traceable to their real owners, in the event of doubt or suspicion, the NCC, successfully deactivated the remaining 2.2 million improperly registered SIM cards across the netwotks of all telecoms operators. The additional deactivation of the 2.2 million improperly registered SIM cards, which took place few days before the visit of Senate Committee to NCC, was a total cleansing of the telecoms network from SIM cards that were not dully registered, which were hitherto, used for committing crimes like kidnapping, financial theft, among others.
The recent cleansing of MNOs from every trace of improperly registered SIM cards on their networks, is in line with NCC’s resolve to sanitise the telecoms industry in order to address the rising insecurity situation in the country, where some people use unregistered and improperly registered SIM cards to indulge in criminal activities.

Following the September 2019 Ministerial directive, the NCC, within a week, intensified efforts by reducing the number of improperly-registered SIM cards from 9.2 million to 2.2 million, before the recent final cleansing of the networks.

Danbatta said over the years, the NCC had tenaciously worked with determination and through various policy initiatives, to rid mobile networks of improperly or invalidly-registered SIM cards to ensure that all the current over 184 million registered SIM cards/mobile lines across MNOs’ networks have valid data that are traceable and not anonymous.

According to him, “Our efforts received a boost, following the implementation of a September 12, 2019 Ministerial directive that the NCC should compel service providers to block all improperly-registered SIM cards, pending when their owners regularise their registration.

“As part of the Commission’s ongoing regulatory interventions such as the setting up of the SIM Registration Industry Task Force, which led to several resolutions including the Industry Working Group (IWG) on harmonisation of SIM registration process with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to ensure a clean SIM database, the Commission had, in June 2019, commenced the second round of comprehensive verification audit of MNOs’ SIM card registrations. This audit exercise was concluded in August 2019. The audit was specifically to ensure strict adherence by telecom operators to the provisions of the Telephone Subscribers Registration Regulations 2011.”
Danbatta further said: “We have since initiated the second phase of SIM deactivation based on the ministerial directive and as at today, we have completely deactivated the remaining 2.2 million lines on the networks.”

NCC’s appeal
The climax of the oversight function of the Senate committee, was the appeal made by NCC to all government agencies that are involved in telecoms regulations in their respective states, to allow telecoms operators expand telecoms facilities in their states through the granting of RoW permit to rollout fibre optic cables for broadband deployment as well as the deployment of other telecoms facilities in their states.

Danbatta said the various inter-agency collaborations, frequent engagement of state governments to discuss issue of RoW, multiple regulations, taxation and other challenges, were consciously articulated towards improving deployment of telecoms infrastructure to ensure improved services for the telecom consumers.

The commission, EVC said, had also issued various directions to Mobile Metwork Operators (MNOs) with respect to roll-over data and forceful subscriptions to ensure that consumers are not shortchanged by market forces.
Danbatta said the introduction of Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 Short Code to manage unsolicited messages, the toll-free number (622) for the escalation of complaints and the 112 Emergency Communication Number, which is connected to the Emergency Communication Centres (ECCs), were conscious policies put in place to ensure that the rights of telecom consumers are safeguarded and to ensure that Nigerians enjoy derivable benefits of new communication technologies.

At the moment, 18 states of the federation currently have operational ECCs while efforts are being made by the commission to ensure ECCs are operational in the remaining states of the country.
Danbatta also told the committee members that the commission was instrumental to the listing of MTN and Airtel on the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE); resolved N1.03 trillion fine against MTN; promoted the Code of Corporate Governance in the industry from voluntary to mandatory compliance; developed new numbering plan to enhance opportunities for emerging technologies; and restructured the telecoms value-added services (VAS) segment resulting in licensing of 10 VAS aggregator companies.

According to Danbatta, “The NCC is the national telecommunications regulatory agency with the mandate of promoting the overall growth of the telecommunications industry, through regulatory excellence that drives innovation, research and development, towards achieving accelerated socio-economic development of the country, as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003.

He assured telecoms subscribers of frequent consulting with consumers, commercial and industry organisations, including stakeholders and that it would establish and maintain subsidiaries to enable the discharge of its functions, for the well-being of telecoms subscribers.