Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Telecoms: Unprecedented poor service to hit Lagos

Unprecedented poor telecom quality of service (QoS) may soon take over the commercial nerve centre of the nation, Lagos, due to the excesses of the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), says the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).

This is coming as the group said its ready for dialogue, that is, only if it would be meaningful, as being solicited by LASIMRA.

Reacting to the incessant arrests and detention of telcom officials from its member companies in Lagos, over what LASIMRA alleged as unlawful laying of infrastructure, ALTON said that the trend would impact adversely not only to the development of telecommunications in the country, but also to Lagos as the nerve centre of the nation and would be drastically hit with the increased poor quality of services across the networks.

ALTON chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said their attention have been drawn to some media adverts inciting communities against telecom operators sponsored by LASIMRA, asking those communities to call the agency on sighting of telcos site engineers.

He added that the most worrisome now is the arrests of site engineers and confiscation of their tools as well as cables.

“It is with considerable concern that we draw attention to recent closure of some operators’ sites on the orders of the General Manager of LASIMRA,” he said, lamenting that ALTON major concern is that this act of disregard for the rule of law is coming from a state led by Mr. Babatunde Tunde Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

“We are concerned by the grave disregard for the rule of law demonstrated by LASIMRA and the potentially deleterious consequences of these act,” he declared, adding that telecom regulation is an exclusive of the federal government.

Champion Infotel recalled that on February 25, 2007, a federal high court presided over by Justice Joseph Auta, delivered judgement in favour of ALTON in suit No. FHC/L/CS/517/06, which was on registered trustees of ALTON & Ors versus Lagos State Government & Ors.
Mr. Adebayo pointed out that the court action challenged the existence of Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (IMRA) Law, through which the Lagos State Government sought to regulate the activities of telecom operators within the state.

He noted that based on the judgement, telecommunications is still a matter under the exclusive legislative list of the 1999 Constitution and accordingly “no State Government or State House of Assembly has the jurisdiction to legislate on it, any such legislation is null and void.”

In addition, Justice Auta, emphasised that it seeks to regulate the activities of telecoms operators in Lagos State, therefore, the IMRA law is an encroachment on the Nigerian Communications Act, a Federal Legislation which “covers the field” with respect to the regulation of telecommunications infrastructure in Nigeria.

Consequently, the court granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Lagos State Government, the Attorney-General of Lagos State and the Inspector General of Police (whether by themselves or by their agents) from implementing the IMRA law against ALTON.

“It is thus abundantly clear that neither the Lagos State government nor LASIMRA have the powers to regulate telecoms operators,” he said, stressing that LASIMRA has posted ‘Stop Work Order’ on a number of sites currently being built by operators in Lagos State, thus hampering the ability of telcos to deploy more capacity in Lagos and environ.

Precisely, he said, that on Wednesday, November 21, ALTON received a report of employees of Starcomms arrested whilst working on a site in Ketu Area of Lagos.

“Three of them were arrested with equipment and tools worth several thousand of dollars seized from them,” he said and following high level intervention, the men were released and the General Manager, LASIMRA, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, insisted that work must not continue on those sites, and as we speak, the sites remained closed on the order of LASIMRA according to a notice posted on the site,” he said.

Equally, ALTON said that on the same day, four engineers working on an MTN site on Ikorodu Road were arrested at 11.30am, assaulted and detained at a police station known as Government Monitoring Team (GMT) Alausa Car Park Ikeja.

“Several materials were seized from them including antennas, feeder cable and measuring tools which can not be quantified because they were not allowed to take inventory of things seized from them before they were bundled into waiting trucks and driven to detention at the GMT Alausa Ikeja,” ALTON decried.

The group further said that the excuse that LASIMRA’s town-planning responsibilities also extend to “the control of sitting and erection of buildings…” and that “the foundations of base-stations are comparable to those of, at least, a storey building,” is not acceptable.

ALTON said, it finds this excuse entirely unacceptable in the light of the specific pronouncements of Justice Auta in his judgement:

“I believe this is an encroachment on the powers of the NCC… the Lagos State Government is camouflaging under urban planning… the driving force of the law is just to make money for the State, as the state already has numerous laws dealing with urban planning …”

ALTON member companies, he revealed, could no longer access sites for routine maintenance of existing network elements, alleging that LASIMRA agents now prevent workers access to deploy capacity on the various networks.

While apologising to Nigerians over the deteriorating quality of service in the country, he warned that this may increase, especially in Lagos State as end of the year festivity draws near with tendency for increased traffic.

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