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Broadband Is The Next Revolution — Danbatta

Prof. Umaru Garba Danbatta, New NCC boss
Umaru Garba Danbatta, New NCC boss
The new Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta, appears unfazed by the brewing crisis in the telecoms sector following the refusal of MTN Nigeria to pay but rather go to court over the fine imposed on it for infractions on the SIM registration of some of its subscribers.

From the look of things and the direction he is pointing, Danbatta seems to concern himself more with the immediate things to do to sustain the developments telecommunications has brought to the Nigerian economy.

With a strong focus on broadband, Danbatta, in an interview with ICT journalists recently listed areas of priority and the strategies he has mapped out to ensure that growth in the telecoms sector is maintained. The Nigerian telecoms sector has indeed witnessed astronomical growth in telephony access and data penetration.

Today, active telephone lines are well over 150 million with close to 100 million Nigerians having access to the Internet. The country’s teledensity is put at 108 per cent. Investment in the sector is put at over $32 billion. The impact of telecoms sector on other sectors such as banking, e-commerce, agriculture, education, oil and gas and so on and the volume of jobs the sector is creating has been described as unprecedented.

Danbatta’s focus areas included reviving the moribund Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) sub-Sector; run an open access model for broadband deployment; encourage operator investment; improve on quality of services and as expected fine ‘errant’ operators among others.

Reviving the CDMA sub-Sector: The CDMA sub-Sector in Nigeria can be said to be left with nothing, though the only living operator, Visafone is left with less than two million subscribers.

The sector has continued to maintain downward profile in the last five years. But in his vision, Danbatta admitted that Fixed networks have been neglected, stressing that nobody is interested in them despite the promises they hold.

Subscriber base

According to him, operators are more interested in providing mobile services and the subscriber base by operator attests to this, with MTN having over 60 million subscribers, Glo and Airtel having over 30 million, Etisalat has 20 million subscribers and then Visafone about 2.5 million subscribers.

“If we can deliberately introduce incentives to any operator to come in and roll out fixed telecoms services, we can do it. The Commission is open to negotiations on how this could be done.

“We intend to convince the government to key into this important initiative of the Commission”, he stated.

Tackling the Issue of QoS

Admitting that telephone services are not at the level they ought to be, Danbatta said “the QoS is also characterised by key performance indicators (KPIs) which we know are defined by terminologies associated with drop calls, inability to get calls through and vice versa. But there are other technical issues that are not conversant to ordinary Nigerians all of which we must tackle to improve QoS.

According to him, the non-technical issues are the ones that Nigerians are more conversant with; the inability to have Right of Way to access sites and locations for the deployment of infrastructure like fibre networks. He noted that there are the issue of multiple taxation at the state and federal levels, and even local government and ward levels; and next to these two is the vandalisation of telecoms infrastructure“

Measures against Right of Way challenges: Danbatta said the commission is exploring two means to tackling this issue. According to him, a letter has been sent to the Governors’ Forum and the intension is to pay a courtesy call on them in order to drive the message home that this multiple taxation impedes on our conscious effort to deploy broadband services as well as to set this important argument that the taxes that they’ll be realising through broadband services will outweigh so much the little money they’re collecting by creating obstacles for broadband deployment.

“If they can understand this argument; which is a very strong and convincing argument we intend to put across, then we have to be able to convince them to relax some of these stringent measures they’re putting as it refers to the infraCos by way of relaxing impediments to Right of Way and multiple taxation. We have strategized on what we intend to say to the Governors’ Forum and I think this kind of engagement is germane to drive the point home that there’ll be a complete benefit of the scale that will far outweigh the little money they’re getting now. The level of penetration will speak for itself and people will pay taxes alongside these improvements that we’re going to witness in broadband penetration and the proliferation of ICT services all over the major cities in Nigeria and the taxes associated with those services will far outweigh the little money they’re getting by introducing those taxes”, he stated.

Reception in high-rise buildings

The second, according to Danbatta is that there are devices that can improve reception in high-rise buildings; hotels, offices among others. There are electronic gadgets that can improve reception in those places and once reception improves in such places where people gather the result and effect also will be improvement in QoS.

He said the NCC will recommend those gadgets to be installed in hotels, high-rise buildings, among others. He stressed that the service providers should do the installation because they’re the ones selling services.

Fines on erring operators: This may not be entertaining to the operators, but Danbatta assured that only erring operators will be sanctioned when the need arises. “We’re not fining operators on flimsy excuses when and if cases of infringement are established; they are fined on cases of infringement consistent with the law. People forget that the regulator conducts this important affair of regulation, consistent with the Act and there are other regulations already gazetted; the SIM card registration regulation, the law establishing the USPF and other laws regulating monitoring and compliance. “ The regulator cannot just stand by and watch as these various infringements are being committed with impunity”, he stated.

Spectrum auctions, frequency supervision and licensing

Danbatta said that the 700MHz frequency is an important spectrum because of its penetration; the higher the frequency the higher the penetration in terms of distance. He explained that this band is so ideal for broadband penetration, adding that before his appointment, the spectrum was auctioned by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), they had the approval granted by the government.

Danbatta said the commission now has an understanding that the frequency should not have been auctioned for broadcast services because it is a telecommunication spectrum.

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