By Emma Okonji
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami has called on telecommunications operators to resist any rise in the cost of Right of Way (RoW) imposed by state governments.
He insisted that any attempt by state governments to increase the cost of RoW would negate efforts of the federal government in bringing down the cost of telecommunications services.
According to Pantami, “The federal government is keen at bringing low the cost of telecoms services in order to achieve its digital economy drive much faster. It is for this reason that the federal government, in 2013, had an agreement with telecoms operators to implement a flat rate of N145 per linear metre on RoW charges.”
Pantami who spoke during a virtual forum organised recently by the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), emphasised the need for state governments to keep RoW charges low and to maintain the agreed rate of N145 per linear metre across states.
Responding to questions on RoW charges, Pantami allayed the general concern that only seven states have reversed to the agreed rate of N145 per linear metre.
“After I met with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on the RoW charges early this year, their chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, promised to ensure that all states would reduce RoW charges to N145 per linear metre and since then, several states have complied and the number of states that have complied is increasing,” Pantami said.
He expressed optimism that more states would comply with the N145 rate and strongly advised telecoms operators to resist any increase in RoW charges. The minister further assured that the federal government would continue to protect telecoms infrastructure for the benefits of telecoms operators and subscribers. He was hopeful that the Critical National Infrastructure Bill would soon be signed into law, having pushed the copy of the Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for final approval.
Pantami added: “In order to create an enabling environment for both investors and consumers, we have addressed the lingering issue of the cost of Right of Way (RoW) to the barest minimum and also put measures in place to eradicate illegal or multiple taxation.
“Prior to the resolution of the RoW issues, many operators noted that they spent as much as 70 per cent of their investment in paying for RoW charges.
Examples of amounts charged for RoW per linear metre in the past include N4,500 and N5,500, some states even charged about N16,000.
“To give a better illustration, for a particular state, the estimated cost of connecting two Local Government Areas was a staggering N560 million before the implementation of the RoW resolution and now it costs just N150,000.
“President Buhari also approved the designation of relevant telecommunications infrastructure across the country as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).
We have also provided input for an Executive Order to give a policy backing for the protection of CNI. We updated the initial draft Executive Order with input that we received from relevant stakeholders like the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. The revised Executive Order document has already been forwarded to Mr. President.”
Pantami, therefore urged telecoms operators to reciprocate the efforts of government by recognising the customer as king and treating them as such. “We expect you to enhance customer experience by improving service quality, reduce the cost of service and increase broadband penetration, in line with the National Broadband Plan (2020 – 2025), among other things,” the minister said.
He added: “As part of our efforts to promote indigenous content, and in line with Indigenous Content Development and Adoption, the ministry is developing a policy for promoting indigenous content in the telecom sector to complement similar efforts that focus on the information technology sector. This is important to stem the tide of capital flight, among other things.”
He explained that President Buhari had been extremely supportive in developing the telecom sector.