" ITREALMS: NCS versus convergence

Thursday, December 15, 2005

NCS versus convergence

Recent objection by the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) over proposed merger of the Nigerian Communications Commission, National Broadcasting Commission and National Information Technology Development Agency to boost convergence in the forthcoming unified licensing regime. REMMY NWEKE reports it’s indication that more education is required for industry players.

JUST few months to the February 2006 date proposed for the introduction of the unified licensing regime into the nation’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), disparity in terms of understanding the concept still pervades the industry.
Unified license would culminate in the convergence of the industry segments; be it pure telecom, information technology and core Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Content Service Providers (CSPs) consisting of broadcasting organizations and other ICT industry entities.
In other words, unified license for a layman’s understanding is the joining of the several currently existing licenses in the industry into one, while the convergence serves as the meeting point for the industry service providers. With this, the industry would definitely need ‘unified’ overseeing body as a regulator.

Regulatory organs in the industry
Current situation shows that NCC regulates the nation’s telecommunications sector, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is in-charge of the broadcasting industry in the country, whereas the National IT Development Agency, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) caters for the implementation of the National Information Technology (IT) Policy and to coordinate and regulate the development and regulation of the Information Technology sector.
But there is bickering on the faces of some experts based on the contentions that the proposed unified licensing would spell doom for the industry and if care is not taken, may destabilize the gains made in the last five years, following the liberalization of the telecommunications sector and advent of Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) revolution, which has placed Nigeria as the fastest growing nation in tele-density.

NCS aghast with convergence
One of the proponents of this idea is the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), the umbrella body of about five industry interest groups, namely the Internet Service Providers Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON)/Software Developers Group (SDG), Information Technology Industry Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Nigerian IT Professionals in the Americas (NITPA) and the National Association of Computer Science Students (NACOSS).
The stand of NCS was made known recently at the reception of three government officials - Director General of NITDA, Prof. Cleopas Officer Angaye, Special Adviser to the President on ICT, Mr. Emmanuel Arinze and his counterpart at the FMST, Mr. Onyeka Uche Ofili, by the body in Lagos.
President of NCS, Dr. Chris Nwannenna, in his address on the occasion, noted that there has been merger talks being proposed by some people at the recently held Telecom Summit for the trio; NCC, NBC and NITDA, in the spirit of convergence, which dictates that this should be the way forward.
Proponents of convergence at the summit were also reported to believe that the merger will bring about unified licensing whereby, according to them, “under a unified licensing regime, multiple services such as mobile telephony, fixed telephony, internet, broadband, long distance services, etc, could be made available by a single service provider”.
NCS, however, raised a question; which of the above services comes under NITDA licensing regime? “None of these. It is therefore possible that the telecoms summit is not well informed about the objectives and functions of NITDA,” he retorted.
NITDA, he said, was set up to research on, and develop IT products and services, which main focus has been in the area of computer hardware and software systems and services.
Apart that NCS probably has a different version of reference or definition of what NITDA should do, NITDA’s interaction with data communications in the course of its research and development efforts, according to NCS within IT framework will have nothing to do with ‘licensing’, NCS postulated.
NITDA, Dr. Nwannenna, who also is the chief executive of Condata Systems Limited, pointed out should therefore be left alone to pursue its objectives and not be bothered in anyway with merger talks especially now that NITDA has come out with a more focused programme for the development of IT in the country.

Contrary position
This position is contrary to what the federal government’s definition or reference to the agency aforementioned should be.
Also for the chief executive of NCC, Dr. Ndukwe, there is hope that unified licensing will help to streamline the competition in the industry, whereas the ISPs, for instance, are currently being undermined by the fact that they are members of NCS and most telecom companies are deploying their main trade; providing Internet access, as Value Added Service (VAS) on telcos’ networks.
It becomes confusing about the level of structure in NCS membership, which obviously cut across the segment of the larger ICT industry.
In some quarters, it was observed that the more fact about ICT stipulates that visitors’ to other people’s website in terms of research and developing programme through learning from experience is communication.
This group of proponents argued that if one has information without passing it on by communicating to another, especially at this era of Information Society, it becomes invalid. Therefore, they said that information and technology deployed thereof to facilitate the goals of exchanging information is nothing if not communicated.
Although NCS may have disputed the above argument, its own position or what some industry watchers tagged as ‘palpable’ fear of extinction, the fact remains that those agitating for unified license cum convergence at this stage of ICT industry in Nigeria must be cautious.

NATCOMS’ stand
On the other hand, optimistic National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS) has urged Ministry of Communications through NCC to commence the issuance of the unified licensing to existing GSM and Fixed Wireless Operators and also to new applicants as it may deem necessary. This NATCOMS said, is because the current situation is “almost a monopoly”.
The subscribers’ rights group through its national president, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said that with the nation’s population nearing 150 million, “we will need more effective operators of unified licences which would allow each licensee, operate GSM, Fixed wireless and other telecoms services, all under one roof.”
This, NATCOMS further said, would usher in healthy competition, lower tariffs as well as create more jobs.

Caution must apply
According to technology research expert and chief executive, eShekels Limited, Mr. Fola Odufuwa, the idea for unified licensing is good, but care must be taken to avoid Nigeria serving as a guinea pig, in terms of experimentation of the policy.
He is also worried that if not well handled, it could spell doom for the bourgeoning telecommunications industry in the country.

Educating stakeholders
NCC as the chief prosecuting officer and the likely agency to subsume the others, had since this proposal sounded the industry out since, yet addressing the fears associated with new things would always be there, as much caution must be applied optimally to ensure the hope people have on the commission.As it were, more education is required to be done among the industry players to make the methodology sink very well in the minds of those anticipated to be active players in the proposed new regime, even as they themselves should also endeavour to close the mile-gap by not being self-exonerated. This would in no little way assist stakeholders to come into terms with what convergence is all about.

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