Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Unbundling NITEL:Decay infrastructure may stall process


In spite of the plans by the Federal Government to unbundle the first national carrier, the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and its subsidiary, the Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTel), the proposal faces another obstacle with the discovery that infrastructural decay may hamper the plans.

This is coming as NITEL workforce under the aegis of Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC), supposedly on strike, insisted that for the so-called unbundling to even take off there is a need to settle all the arrears owed the workers before now.

Investigations by ITRealms Online at the weekend, showed that although NITEL reportedly has telecom infrastructure scattered across the nation, but due to inability of the government to sell the company on time since its privatization exercise begun about seven years ago.

It was also gathered that though NITEL has about 400,000 lines as at the commencement of its privatization, this figure has drastically depreciated due to lack of maintenance, especially between its exchanges in Lagos and Enugu.

Additionally, the inability for the organization to have a constant management team with its progress at heart over the years, was not helpful, especially with the intervention of Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) intermittently, therefore leaving no room for a progression of decisions taken, thereby allowing the company to deteriorate on daily basis.

Another proof to this fact is that although some companies and organizations claim to have NITEL still working for them, mostly at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the land-line boxes have degenerated to merely ‘intercom’ boxes, while those on MTel have since migrated to other mobile networks in the country, especially the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) operators.

Yet, another show of the decay in NITEL infrastructure is that calling its mobile subsidiary, for instance, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) would simply inform you that the number you are calling is out of service or worst still not reachable, even when the person has its Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card well inserted on a mobile phone and right beside you.

So, for many other users or subscribers of NITEL and MTel, the company is no longer in existence, because according to some of them, the government has buried these companies with the deal consummated with the Transnational Corporation (Transcorp), which was eventually revoked on June 1, 2009.

For a professor of telecommunications at the American University Yola, Prof. Augustine Odinma, the decay in infrastructure would definitely negatively affect the unbundling of new NITEL, but to what extent is yet un-estimated.

Odinma also said that it is not all NITEL infrastructure that is obsolete, but some need to be replaced in line with the dictates of new technologies, while some could be revamped or rehabilitated.

“Of course, some of the exchange equipment and carrier systems are still usable,” he declared.

Equally for some telecom gurus in the land, NITEL has become a by-product of bad leadership of the current political party in control of government, basically due to their politicization of NITEL as an institution without regards to the bigger picture, which is the country.

Although it is highly believed and advocated in some quarters that the only company capable of reengineering NITEL family is the second national operator, the Globacom, which is a wholly Nigerian telecommunications company.

For those proponents, Globacom as the SNO has all it takes for the take-over of the first national operator; the experience which it has extended to the sub-region within a short time and the financial muscle to push those decayed infrastructure into viability.

The only unanswered question here by the SNO, which has since reiterated its resolve to acquire NITEL with a promise to run it efficiently if given the opportunity is how to manage the debt NITEL has incurred over the years, especially from the salary arrears of the workforce.

Efforts to get the Head, Public Relations at Globacom, Mr. Bode Opesietan’s response was not successful as at press time.

ITRealms Online may recall that currently BPE re-strategising to split NITEL into five subsidiaries in order to appeal to investors in the current dispensation. These would include South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) undersea cable, the analogue cellular phone STAC and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) to be separated from the fixed line operation, according to BPE spokesman, Mr. Joe Anichebe, who explained that eventually the five units would have operating licenses made available to them in terms of renewal in readiness for take-off.

The Federal Government incorporated NITEL as a limited liability company in December 1984, as a product of the merger between the telecommunications arm of the defunct Posts and Telecommunications Department (P&T) of the then Ministry of Communications, and Nigerian External Communications Limited (NET), but it commenced operations on January 1, 1985.

However, the workforce warned that without clearance of salary arrears owed them, the unbundling of NITEL would be futile, as said by the SSACTAC President, Comrade ‘Tunji Adesunkanmi, who insisted that for the so-called unbundling to become a realty the over 11-month arrears must be settled.

While urging the government to expedite actions on the revitalization of NITEL, he stressed that the return of the telco would fasten the desire to crash tariff by other telecom operators.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

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