Business Hilights
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Is NCC lacking ideas in driving broadband penetration or…?

Since the seemingly failed auctioning of 2.6 GHz spectrum for the deployment of 4G services in 2016, there are indications that the telecoms regulator may have not been its self or it is still wondering why the auctioning failed to sweep all the slots.

Industry observer saw the process to a large extent, a failure because only MTN Nigeria was able to win some slots, leaving others.

The development then, created serious disquiet at NCC and further compelled it to search for reasons why the auction was not successful.

No doubt, stakeholders were straight. They made NCC to understand that it was not all about making money for government, but delivery of services to Nigerians and growth of the nation’s connectedness.

Stakeholders made NCC to understand that going for the deep pockets only will only stifle the entire process than growing the system. They further gave NCC the needed code of progress to deepen data services and broadband penetration then.

Earlier in the year, the regulator told journalists in Lagos that it is gathering data from stakeholders on why the auctioning failed and after which it will conduct another round of bidding process for the remaining specturms. That has not taken place up till now.

The NCC also assured that it will conduct bids for the licencing of Infrastructure Companies (Infracos) for the remaining four out of six zones as partitioned; that still, had not taken place, contrary to the provisions of National Broadband Plan (NBP).

The situation has continued to keep landed sub marine cables at Lagos seashore for more than five years as the enabling environment for their circulation across the nation has remained unattended to.

Business Hilights can recall that the NBP was developed by a Presidential Committee chaired by the National Coordinator, A4AI Nigeria and former Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and Zenith Bank Chairman, Jim Ovia, supported by major Information Technology (IT) industry players from within and outside Nigeria.

For more than one year now, NCC is still planning to licensing of broadband services on the 5.4 GHz spectrum bank and allocation of 70/80 GHz band (E-band), amongst other plans.

Going by the body language of the NCC, these may again, skip this year without any convincing reasons to the collective intelligence of Nigerians and mainly industry stakeholders.

The most shocking act of the agency according to industry stakeholders was the recent inability of the leadership to convince the Minister of Communications that the choice of not including industry stakeholders in the new Broadband Council will spell down as peopling the committee with mere civil servants who clearly lacked field experience means that government is far from facing the reality of achieving broadband penetration and deepening of associated development in the country after all.

Like the former Council which did very well, it had in it, top executives of leading industry groups who are in the know of the happenstances in the business of broadband.

Analysts are getting tired of hearing from NCC every time that it is working on convincing states government to buy into the idea of giving Infracos easy access to Right of Way (RoW). This brings to the question of how far have the two Infracos already named for Lagos and North Central doing in provision of fibre optic fibre and associated infrastructure and how has the regulator assisted in solving their teething challenges.

As envisaged by the National Broadband Plan, the best hope of delivering on Nigeria’s broadband plan is by ensuring that the spread of Nigeria’s 3G and relatively new 4G mobile networks which has largely helped broadband penetration to reach 21% is widened and the Quality of Service (QoS) improved.

However, the spread of 4g is now limited by forex to import materials. Some of the items fall under the 41 restricted items and the regulator had failed to convince the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to delist ICT items from the list. The scenario has therefore forced networks to make do with whatever they can rely on, but it is not supposed to be so.

For too long, the campaign to consider telecoms infrastructure as critical national assets has been on without any known success.

Besides, a recent Policy Brief dated June 2017, titled: ‘Broadband Access in Nigeria: Not Broad Enough, Not Qualitative Enough’ Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) had passed a damning verdict on the state of ‘Broadband Nigeria’ and everywhere has remained quiet.

Rather conflicting figures of foreign direct investments were given by the leadership of NCC at ITU and the Minister of Communications at a Lagos hotel recently.

While the executive vice chairman of NCC said $70bn at ITU in Korea, the Minister, Barr Adebayo Shittu told Nigerian in Lagos that FDI to the sector was $60bn.

In the views of analysts, time has come for the regulator and the supervising ministry to seat down with relevant stakeholders and workout a realistic roadmap to broadband penetration in Nigeria.

Observers say one of the most important issue currently hobbling investments in broadband penetration is the silence so far kept by NCC in reviewing Data Price Floor (DPF). This seems to be the crux of the matter in the observed poor data services across the nation at a time everything in Nigeria is going the data way.

Several experts including the managing director of Spectranet 4G LTE Limited, Mr. David Venn had argued in conferences and interviews that leaving DPF un-reviewed is another form of encouraging unhealthy competition that will further drive investments in the data segment of the telecoms market.

This fact was also made clear by the new leadership of 9Mobile during its working visit to the NCC few months ago, still yet, nothing came out it.

Some of these issues so raised may have frayed the nerves of an advocacy group, Broadband 2018 Coalition, forcing it to call on the Federal Government to expedite the implementation of the country’s five year broadband plan that was developed and submitted by the presidential committee on broadband four years ago.