•Why Pantami, Danbatta must work together
•How Telcos’demands could be met
•What NCC”s order on collocation may achieve
By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
President Muhammadu Buhari, overlooked the melodrama between the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Ibrahim Pantami, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta and the Director-General of National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, during the launch of the digital economy complex Ombura, Abuja recently, to charge them on closing the access gaps in the country.
The president who listened to claims and counter claims from the three stakeholders on their contributions towards the developments in the sector, however, charged them to ensure that telecom operators in the country, met the targets set in the new National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 by giving special attention to the un-served and underserved areas of the country while deploying their services.
The president may have picked interest in the access gaps when the EVC of NCC claimed that the commission has helped to reduce access gaps from 217 to 114 in the last five years.
Access gaps are areas, clusters and communities in a country not covered in any form by information and Technology Communications ICT services.
Apparently realising the centrality of robust Telecoms infrastructure to the nation, President Buhari directed the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy to join with NCC in this regard by working with States and other relevant MDAs towards protecting critical National Infrastructure, especially telecoms services.
This presidential directive is based on the President’s recognition of the fact that the Minister needed to truly face the task of addressing industry issue.
With the lockdown in the country, the stay-at-home order and the need to maintain social distancing culture, to curb the rampaging coronavirus pandemic, the president’s call becomes more imperative, because if there is any time in the history of humanity the need to have seamless access to telecoms services has become very central, it is now, when people need to keep in touch with their friends, relatives, business partners and carry out official engagements while observing the lockdown
Meanwhile, the telcos recently listed the conditions that will help them carry out this task even within this period COVID-19 is a hindrance.
Through their umbrella body, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the telcos recommended that the industry regulator, the NCC, should facilitate the process of getting approval for Right of Passage (RoP) for all telecoms operators, from the federal and state governments, to allow for easy movement, should there be a partial or total lockdown of the economy as a result of Coronavirus. Members also recommended that NCC should facilitate the process of Right of Passage (RoP) for logistics companies that are involved in supplies of goods and services to telecoms operators.
Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo who gave a rundown of the conditions, said his members have also agreed to increase their network capacities to enable them provide quality service throughout the period of Coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the NCC, as a way of ensuring smooth telecom services throughout the period of the COVID-19, has ordered telecom operators to share facilities and resources throughout the period the Coronavirus pandemic will last.
In a statement signed by the Director, Public Affairs of the commission, Henry Nkemadu, NCC also directed that the telcos ensure their Corporate Social Responsibilities, CSR projects is in tandem with government initiatives.
According to the statement, “the Commission has approved resource sharing by operators throughout the period of coronavirus. These include fibre optics cables and other resources in the event of cable cuts and other unforeseen developments during the period of coronavirus outbreak”.
Part of the statement also said: “The Commission has also directed Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to ensure that their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes are in tandem with government initiatives to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic in order to provide safety and support aid materials that will protect the public against coronavirus. For those who may be affected, we implore them to take advantage of the Emergency Communications Centres (ECC) by dialing the toll free number 112.
“The NCC supports Right of Passage (RoP) for all telecommunications members for easy movement in the event of a total lockdown and or restriction of movement. We are also in support of RoP for suppliers that are involved in supplies of fuels, foods and other support services to telecom operators, to allow for free movement in the event of partial or total lockdown as a result of the coronavirus.
We are in touch with Law Enforcement Agencies to constantly protect telecom infrastructure nationwide”.
However, a Lagos based telecom analyst Mr Desmond Muonagor said that until the Minister of communications and digital economy keys with these NCC efforts and escalate them to strong national policies, they will only solve problems during the coronavirus period while the situation relapses after the pandemic.
He said: “The presidents tall order on access gaps is in the right direction. The NCC measures to bring it to fruition is a welcome development but they can only have a lasting effect if the minister keys in on it and make them policies.
“Some time ago, the NCC signed MoUs with many agencies all in efforts to make things easy for the operators. It has also claimed to increased voice subscriptions from about 160million to over 185 million, increased teledensity to close to 100 percent, increased broadband penetration from around 4-6 percent to over 38 percent currently and has increased GDP contribution by telecoms from around 8 percent to amount 11 percent currently. But the NCC could have done more, had all the teething challenges been addressed with the collaboration of the ministry and sister agencies” he added.
The NCC also said it is driving infracos, released guidelines on commercial satellite operations in Nigeria to complement fibre deployment by InfraCo, pioneering the trial of 5G and have released Regulations on the TVWS for unused broadcast spectrum for the deployment of affordable broadband services in rural, underserved and under-served areas. among others.
Perhaps it is the time for the minister,r the EVC and perhaps the NITDA DG to sheathe their swords and face the challenge ahead for the industry to achieve ubiquity in all spheres of telecom services.