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How NCC technically confirmed MTN’s usage of 800 MHz Visafone spectrum

A clear lead has emerged on the possible pronouncement of MTN Nigeria as the substantive owner and therefore, legal user of the controversial 800MHz spectrum originally belonging to Visafone before the 100 per cent acquisition of the ailing company by MTN.

Business Hilights recalls that since MTN bought Visafone in total, efforts it have been making to use its spectrum in business have been marred by petitions and discordant voices from its competitors on grounds of giving MTN an undue advantage to extend dominance of telecoms services space in Nigeria.

At the height of the crisis recently, the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) held a consultative meeting with stakeholders on whether MTN can go ahead to use the currently idle spectrum of the sold company.

However, as industry stakeholders await the final decision of the regulator on the matter, recently, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta dropped a leading hint on the possible line of judgment that may be given in the course of resting the controversy.

Danbatta, while answering question at a recent media parley in Abuja with select media executives on what the Commission is doing about unused telecoms licenses that are in the hands of some telecoms operators, he said “NCC has introduced regulatory measure that encourages spectrum trading,” and averred that “It helps operators to trade their idle spectrum through leasing or transfers”.

Observers say Danbatta’s views suggest that the Commission does not encourage spectrum idleness but leasing, sale and transfers.

Now to the issue at stake, granted the fact that MTN may have out of oversight, went for controlling shares of Visafone whom the original owner, Jim Ovia was in haste to sale in order to recoup his investment having noticed that the era of CDMA is on its way out of Nigeria, the idleness of Visafone 800HMz which is the heart of its operations can only be used by MTN having bought the company 100 per cent. Otherwise, it is very hard for a house buyer not to equally be in possession of the Certificate of Occupancy because it is based on the document that real transfer of ownership can be processed.   

Pundits argue if there is any reasonable difference between buying a company’s shares 100 per cent excluding what can be described as its critical production infrastructure?   

Continuing, NCC boss stressed that “The regulatory measure was put in place to prevent owners of spectrum from keeping to themselves, spectrum that is not in use. Spectrum licences are national resources that should not be kept unutilized”.

No doubt, had it been that Visafone is still in independent operations, it should be using the spectrum, accordingly, the best option in the final resolution of the matter from experts view is to allow MTN go ahead to use it as there has not been any shamble for other idle spectrum by MTN competitors to raise concerns of MTN’s possible dominance.

Besides, MTN has shown serious investments interest on Nigerian spectrum space having been the only bidder in the 2.6MHz recently auctioned by the Commission.

This has raised morality questions on other telecoms objecting MTN’s usage of 800MHz on their seriousness in dragging for spectrum when several auctioned ones were not even contested by them.

Upon NCC has approved spectrum trading, there has been no report of any of the MTN competitors going for any unutilized ones either for lease or direct transfer.  

Danbatta further made it clear that “The NCC has the capacity to monitor the use of spectrum that we have assigned to operators and if we discover anyone that is not being used to provide telecoms services, we can revoke such license”.

“We call on all operators to take advantage of the framework put in place on spectrum trading, leasing, sharing or transfer.

“Nigeria is the only country that has such regulatory framework and I will be speaking about it in the next Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.

“We will continue to provide proactive regulation, by taking appropriate steps before the challenge occurs,” the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta, said.

Earlier in an interview, corporate chief of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Tobechukwu Okigbo had given convincing analogy on why the company should be allowed to manage the Visafone spectrum.