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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Breaking the jinx of Digital SwitchOver by NBC



I have watched and observed with dismay and keen interest the unwarranted attacks, condemnation and persecution of the Emeka Mba led NBC by the NCC and some powerful forces who see Nigeria as their private estate.


Their bone of contention was a recent giant stride recorded by the nation’s apex broadcasting regulatory body, which is already changing the broadcasting firmament for good.



The ingenious, hard working and creative team at the NBC recently succeeded in raising the sum of N34 billion revenue from telecom giant MTN, through innovative licensing to aid and fast track the seamless transition of the long awaited Digital Television Switch Over.



If you would recall, Nigeria was unable to meet the earlier deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) due to the paucity and non release of the N51 billion funding approved for the transition by the previous administration.



Again, Nigeria’s inability to successfully transit presents clear dangers for trans-border signal interference and missed opportunities for increased national broadband internet penetration, hence the need to legally search for funds outside government circles.



This new ray of hope that is expected to usher in a new era in our nation’s broadcasting industry was transparently done via the licensing of MTN to utilise a portion of the 700mhx broadcast spectrum to provide converged digital broadcast services, which they also stated may include broadband.



Interestingly, this milestone that is currently being applauded by those that genuinely wish the industry well was achieved with presidential nod and approval.



With this latest development, I’m optimistic that Nigeria would definitely and smoothly meet the new transition deadline, which has been proposed under the auspices of ECOWAS and scheduled for June 2017.



In as much as I do not want to join issues with those fighting this historic achievement for the nation’s financially troubled broadcasting industry, one thing I want them to know is that this partnership with MTN is unarguably the best thing to happen to the broadcasting and telecom sectors in Nigeria and indeed the African continent.



This is so, because in the past, most countries, including Nigeria have tried and failed woefully in their bids to fund digital migration, which is globally seen as a capital intensive project.



Sincerely, instead of condemnation and crucifixion, I think the NBC should be commended and decorated with medals for scoring big and achieving this daunting task, hitherto impossible, through the innovative licensing of MTN to professionally and passionately provide converged digital broadcast services on digital dividend.



I’m particularly delighted because from whatever prism you choose to look at it from, it is clearly a win-win situation for Nigeria and her broadcasting industry.

Again and as usual, Nigeria as the big brother, has taken another bold step in showing other African countries how to assist the government in raising money through the innovative licensing of the digital dividend spectrum upfront.



Undoubtedly, this innovative licensing will further provide converged services, innovation in the market place and most importantly, raise revenue for successful DSO.



The truth in all these unnecessary and needless controversies being generated in some quarters is that without this type of innovative licensing as proudly championed by the visionary team at the NBC, most countries, within and outside Africa will never, I repeat, will never be able to meet the dreaded ITU deadline.



Obviously, the innovative licensing came at the right time, because the failure to meet a stipulated deadline would further widen the digital divide and limit the progress of the DSO.



As bitter as it may sound, the truth is that government alone cannot do everything, hence the need for those appointed into key national offices to think deep, improvise and collaborate with willing corporate bodies to achieve goals that would aid national growth, provided such transactions are carried out transparently within the confines of the law.

There is no gain saying the fact that the NBC under the capable and focused leadership of Mr. Emeka Mba did the transactions with MTN in line with global best practices.



Amazingly, while endorsing and drumming support for NBC’s historic move, the revered Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO) made it categorically clear that innovative licensing is unarguably Africa’s best option to quickly and successfully raise the much needed but eluded revenue for DSOs.

And so far, the CTO endorsement has consistently been re echoed by most leading broadcasters and respected stakeholders.



With one voice, they have all unanimously chorused repeatedly that the type of innovative licensing recently witnessed by the NBC and MTN is undeniably, the best way to go.



Surprisingly, one very important thing those calling for Mba’s head failed to realise is that a successful DSO for Nigeria means that more spectrum on 700 and 800 would be readily made available as well as the 2.6ghz currently used by cable mmds operators in Nigeria.



Like I said earlier, whichever way you look at it, it is totally a win-win situation that will no doubt reposition, rejuvenate and revamp Nigeria’s broadcasting industry and her teeming practitioners for global competiveness and best practices.



Painfully, some persons in this country who are allergic to success, do not like and appreciate it when giant strides are being recorded in certain sectors for the common good and growth of our nation.

                                          

It hurts so much that in Nigeria, some persons derive joy in attacking and discrediting any meaningful initiative that do not emanate from them.



Some persons in their myopic thinking are alleging that the NBC sold the 700MHz spectrum to MTN for N34 billion without the knowledge of NCC.



From my own investigations, both the NBC and NCC regulate separate and clearly demarcated sections of the spectrum.



Invariably, what this means is that each professionally administers its own bundle without interference from the other.



So, I do not know where the baseless argument that NBC sold the spectrum to MTN without the knowledge of NCC is coming from.

Even though talk is cheap, people should desist from deceiving the public with lies and unverifiable statements aimed at tarnishing the image of top public officials.



That statement is unfounded and did not clearly state the true position of duties between both government agencies.



It further shows that the basis to notify prior to the licensing of MTN does not arise.



Again, I want to emphasise that the license issued was for a converged digital broadcasting license based on the existing NFMC protocol for broadcast.



Permit me to say that the above explains itself clearly.



In the course of my investigations on this unnecessary brouhaha, an insider with in- depth knowledge of the workings of both Commissions told me that the 700MHz spectrum does not belong to the NCC, neither is it their sole property, but that it remains within the broadcasting frequency spectrum, therefore it is still a broadcast spectrum.



And to prove his point, this authoritative voice went further to reveal that it would shock Nigerians to know that as we speak several stations across major Nigerian cities are currently broadcasting on this same spectrum.



He added that even Cable and UHF stations are also proudly on this frequency.



To the best of my knowledge, the NCC which enjoys a very robust working relationship with the NBC is fully aware of this undisputable and incontrovertible fact.



Since inception, they both know and respect each other’s boundaries.



Another important information, I want Nigerians to know is the fact that the NBC as a government approved regulatory agency do not sell spectrums, but fully empowered by law to license persons based on their carefully selected and scrutinised applications to broadcast using available broadcast spectrum as well as other approved formats such as IPTV among others.



Therefore, it is only after the successful DSO that the 700 and portions of the 800mhz could be transferred to NFMC.



What the above explanation clearly tells us, especially those with discerning minds is that the unfortunate allegation that NBC sold spectrum is misleading, baseless and unfounded.



Moreover, for those conversant with the workings of the NBC, especially stakeholders and practitioners, it is an open secret that approvals are based on applications after a thorough assessment of the need and impact on the audiences and the market.



It would interest readers to also know that this was the same approach used by the NBC for IPTV and other forms of over the top services.



Another allegation that I find laughable is the idiotic claim that NBC has no right to sell telecoms spectrum that belongs exclusively to NCC.



It is quite pathetic and unpatriotic that some persons in their desperate and evil bids to discredit the great works currently going on at the NBC, especially the innovative licensing collaboration with MTN, have vowed never to rest on their oars until they bring down Mba, the cerebral leader of the team.



It is also common knowledge that desperate and favour seeking Nigerians can go to any length to bring down anybody in their way, mostly when chasing parochial and mercantile interests.



As a matter of fact, NBC never sold any spectrum that belongs exclusively to the NCC and can never do such.



It is a law abiding body that is professionally manned and managed by law abiding citizens with track records of proven integrity and enviable pedigrees.



My extensive findings, after consulting widely with authorities on the subject matter, revealed that the spectrum in question does not belong to the NCC.



These stakeholders whose views are hugely respected in the industry within and outside our shores, further posited that it is within the sole authority of the broadcasting sector and therefore under the purview of the NBC.



Sincerely speaking, what the NBC deserves currently are accolades and commendations for single-handedly moving Nigeria towards achieving DSO and not bashings and allegations of not seeking the permission of the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) and not following due process in the sale of the spectrum.



What a distraction from those who do not want anything good to come out of Nigeria, mostly now that President Muhammadu Buhari’s mantra of CHANGE is boldly and positively sweeping across our country.



Are the purveyors of these blatant lies saying they were not aware that these frequencies had since been allotted?



Are they also saying that they were oblivious that the segment for broadcasting had been ceded to the NBC by the NFMC a long time ago, same way with the telecom frequencies with the NCC?



The NBC, in case they have memory loss and have forgotten so soon does not require approval or permission from NCC or NFMC at this time for the licensing of the spectrum.



Besides, nobody sold the spectrum as being alleged, what the NBC did was to license it to an operator to utilise and maximise the frequency to offer converged DTT services for the good of the industry and Nigeria at large.



And in doing all of these, due process was strictly followed in tandem with global best practices.



It is also worthy to make clear here that NBC’s licensing process and procedure are completely different from that of the NCC.



Another point to note is that the NBC does not need to refer back to the NFMC each time it issues broadcast license.



More importantly, NBC’s approvals are based on applications and the easement of the submitted application proposals.



Suffice to say that NBC, as a law abiding body managed efficiently and effectively by thorough bred professionals followed its own laid down process and international best practice of broadcast licensing procedures.



Furthermore, the Mba-led NBC also sought and received all necessary approvals from all relevant authorities while undertaking this very crucial and important national assignment that aided the raising of funds for the successful DSO of Nigeria.



There is no doubt that this laudable initiative would ultimately free more frequency spectrum.



Another important issue these enemies of the Nigerian nation failed to comprehend is that there is no way you can talk or achieve digital dividend spectrum without the successful transition of analogue to digital terrestrial television.



Unknown to many of them, the digital dividend spectrum for long had been cannibalised by the NCC in several piece meal allocations that led to its inability to raise the needed funds for DSO.



I find very reprehensible and unintelligent the allegation that this innovative licensing denied Nigerians of the right to bid for the spectrum.



Honestly speaking, I still cannot fathom what these wailing wailers (apologies to Femi Adesina) meant by this ignoble and unpatriotic statement.



Unfortunately, what they failed woefully to realise was that this innovative licensing that was never stealthily or hurriedly done but professionally put to use through a proper process involving all concerned, is a huge plus for Nigeria and her broadcasting industry.



Unequivocally speaking, the innovative licensing of the 700MHz greatly affords Nigerians the best possible option for the provision of high quality converged broadcasting and telecommunications services.



Another advantage that comes with this land mark from the NBC is that it would systematically enable the funding for a successful DSO, which would in turn free up more spectrum for the NCC to sell.



Truth is that without this happening, there won’t be any other option left for the industry.



Above all, the economic importance of what Mba and his dedicated team at the NBC have done cannot be quantified, especially when you juxtapose it with the number of jobs that are already being created with this new national development innovation as well as its multiplier effects on the industry.



With all sense of modesty, they deserve a standing ovation and plaudits, not the vilification and campaign of calumny spear headed by those who never believe in the progress of Nigeria and visibly scared of the new CHANGE sweeping across our land.



I can confidently beat my chest and affirm that what Mba and his team recently achieved with the innovative licensing, is no doubt a giant step for Nigeria and Africa’s broadcasting sectors.



They need our collective support to succeed in this new endeavour; therefore we must commend and not condemn them.



Lastly, we should doff our hats for the NBC for tracking and jamming the operations of the illegal radio station, ‘Radio Biafra’, which has been broadcasting with impunity in some south eastern states.



NBC has not only succeeded in jamming the signals of their transmission in Owerri, but has equally installed sophisticated jamming equipment in Enugu, to forestall the spread of their illegal activities.



And as you read this, the commission is currently working and synergising with the Department of State Security (DSS) to apprehend the culprits behind this menace.

Indeed, the NBC under the competent leadership of Emeka Mba, a tested and trusted public servant has broken the DSO jinx through innovative licensing.

*Azuh Amatus is a journalist and publisher of Daylight.ng, a leading online newspaper and wrote via publisher@daylight.ng

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