Slow Expansion of Telecoms Infrastructure, InfraCos’ Underperformance Worry NCC

Slow Expansion of Telecoms Infrastructure, InfraCos’ Underperformance Worry NCC

Emma Okonji

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, is worried about the slow pace of the expansion of telecoms’ infrastructure across the country, blaming the situation on underperformance of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) that were licensed to provide telecoms infrastructure for the country.

InfraCos were licensed by NCC in all the six geopolitical regions to provide telecoms infrastructure for service providers to ride on for their network expand across the country, but the InfraCos are unable to provide the necessary infrastructure for telecoms expansion as a result of the challenging business environment.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr. Aminu Maida, who stated this during a media parley in Lagos, identified some of the challenging business environment to include multiple regulation and multiple taxes among others, but however said regulation of the telecoms sector at the state level would be inevitable, since states are autonomous body as enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution. He however said through collaboration with the state governments and their agencies, NCC could address some of the overlapping regulations.

“The telecoms sector has not had enough progress as it wanted with the licensed InfraCos, but NCC will do more of advocacy to drive telecoms infrastructure development in the country. In the area of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), NCC has done a lot of stakeholders’ engagement, gathering data and looking at the impact in terms of cost when it comes to damages done to fibre infrastructure and how much of service disruption it is creating for the sector,” Maida said, while fielding questions from journalists.  

Reacting to the concerns of the NCC boss, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, told THISDAY in an interview that unless the government at all levels address the challenges facing InfraCos and telecoms operators in the country, the sector would continue to experience slow growth rate in telecoms’ network expansion. He listed some of the challenges to include:  Challenge to Right of Ways (RoWs); Challenge of access to funds; Challenge of commercial viability in certain locations across the country; and Challenge of unstable telecoms infrastructure, among others,

“If these challenges are not addressed, it will be difficult for InfrCos to survive and deploy telecoms’ infrastructure across the country. The period of time required for Return on Investment (RoI) for telecoms infrastructure deployment is very wide due to the nature of the business that is capital intensive. Not all the InfraCos can have the same level of access to funding, especially with the scarcity of Forex. These are the same challenges bedeviling telecoms operators and NCC had to license InfraCos to provide the necessary infrastructure for telecoms operators to ride on and expand their networks, but unfortunately, the InfraCos are faced with the same challenges. So government must rise to these challenges and address them as quickly as possible before they begin to affect the gains of telecommunications in a negative way,” Adebayo said.  

According to him, the state governments and their agencies are the ones posing these challenges and we as telecoms operators have complained severally to the appropriate authorities of government, but the challenges still persist.

“Some of the state government agencies come up with policies that are inimical to telecoms’ growth in their states, like multiple taxes and they make bold to close down telecoms’ sites in their states, without recourse to the telecoms operators, whenever they are enforcing the policies down the throats of telecoms operators,” Adebayo further said.   

He added: “The NCC boss is right when he said states are autonomous, because things like this cannot be handled by legislation, since those telecoms infrastructure are domiciled in the state and the state governments and their agencies control the state through policy implementation. But through advocacy, it can be achieved. Each state should begin to look at the greater benefits of digital penetration over and above the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) benefits that they are looking at.”

“So NCC and the telecoms operators need to do more on advocacy and public enlightenment, especially for the public actors and the sub-nationals, to enable them see the greater benefits of promoting telecoms expansion in their states, because at the end of the day, both the state and the citizens will benefit from digital transformation, occasioned by the expansion of telecoms infrastructure, “Adebayo said.        

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