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Monday, January 31, 2011

Juwah tells operators ‘It’s no longer business as usual’

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Ikemefuna Juwah, recently met with newsmen in Lagos and responded to some industry issues. Senior Reporter, REMMY NWEKE, was there for ITREALMS ONLINE and reports that Juwah spoke on a number of issues including on incentives for mobile operators for conducting registration of Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) card among others.

Excerpts.

What would be the direction of NCC under your leadership?

I am aware that most of you have been seeking to speak to me individually on the focus and direction of the Commission under my leadership. I also have been eager to speak to you but as you may be aware, there are issues that needed more urgent attention since my assumption of office.

You know that shortly before I arrived, a totally new structure was introduced in the Commission. On arrival, I needed to be properly briefed, and I needed to galvanize and stabilize the workforce.

So, I took time to interact with the staff at different levels to acquaint myself with the on-going activities and programmes of the Commission, and mobilized the senior management to focus on the new direction of the Commission under our leadership.

Can you lead us into some of the issues that confronted you on assumption of office?

Part of the issues that confronted me on arrival is the delay in the approval of the 2010 Budget of the Commission. While working with the National Assembly on that matter, we worked hard to ensure that we promptly submitted our 2011 budget before September 30, 2010.

The issue of Quality of Service (QoS), also became very urgent and I promptly set up a Task Force to focus on the matter. This was the focus of the first meeting I convened with the CEOs of operating telecom companies on October 8, 2010.

One of the major achievements of that task force was the fast tracking of the regulation on QoS which has been longstanding. With this regulation, every service provider will now be held properly accountable by telecom consumers and the regulator.

SIM card registration:

I also need to mention to you that another important issue which needed my immediate attention was SIM Card registration for which we immediately published the draft regulation for industry consultation. We sort to manage a situation where SIM cards were still being sold in the streets, several months after the Commission set the May 1, 2010 date for operators to commence registration. We want to ensure that all new SIM cards are registered by the operators as mandated and we expect them to render regular account of the numbers registered.

We are now finalizing arrangements to commence registration of all existing SIM Cards from February 2011.

Having said these, I need to share with you, the major focus of the NCC under my leadership and this will guide our short, medium and long term actions, programmes and projects.

What is the new focus for the Commission?

Given the circumstances, exigencies and urgencies required to achieve spread of basic telephony services in the country, the Commission’s focus in the last ten years was directed at growing teledensity with the massive deployment of mobile telephony.

The result of this was the current impressive statistics of over 80 million active lines and more than 110 million connected lines. Teledensity is now above 53 per cent. So, it is safe, therefore, to say we have achieved appreciable voice mobile telephony penetration.

While sustaining this growth, I wish to indicate here that in the next five years, our regulatory focus shall be directed at six key areas: (1) Consolidation and Integration of mobile Wireless Services; (2) Fixed Line and Broadband Deployment for National Development; (3) Enhanced Competitive Market, Enhanced Choice for the Consumer; (4) Vigorous Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement of Regulations and Directions; (5) National Connectivity for Accelerated Growth; (6) Enhanced International Relations;

Can you expatiate on some of these key agenda?

On consolidation and integration of mobile services, the current mobile network in Nigeria is not fully optimized. The nation can derive more value from an enhanced and optimized mobile network, especially with an improved Quality of Service.

The Commission will encourage the upgrade of mobile networks to include 3G data overlays for the implementation of application services including but not limited to mobile payment, estate agency and other entertainment services using the Internet as a plank.

We want to achieve this by implementing the key performance indicators for quality of services that can be possibly monitored independently by the Commission with zero tolerance for non-compliance.

Such wireless network will also deliver enhanced and integrated services to such other national projects such as the Emergency Communications Centres being implemented by the Commission in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.

What of the fixed line and broadband deployment for national development?

It has been said that Nigeria missed a great opportunity for her inability to massively deploy fixed lines when other development-focused nations of the world did.

While it is true that mobile phone has attained high penetration and usage, for many homes, businesses and companies, there still exists a yawning need for basic fixed line access with its numerous advantages. Also, the premium nature of mobile services contributes to the issue of its affordability compared with fixed lines.

This has led to some despair in many circles about the ability of this nation to catch up with the robustness of a fixed network complemented by mobile. As a matter of deliberate focus, we shall strive to bring fixed lines back to homes, schools, offices, and businesses.

To achieve this, plans for massive deployment of broadband infrastructure will be explored by the Commission.

We are therefore currently working out the details on how to implement this desirable project which would bequeath the nation with an accomplished and robust telephone network for national development.

This means that the nation will expect more licenses coming out from the Commission, while investors are being informed of new opportunities that the Nigerian market present.

Can you give us the number of licenses so to expect before the end of this year?

No, as it is we cannot say categorically that this is the figure or number of licenses to expect from the Commission until the process takes off and even concludes. But be assured that more new licenses will be issued this year.

Most of the industry groups like the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and Association of Licensed Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) have severally noted that registration of SIM cards by the operators is a diversion of their competence and resources. So, they were expecting incentives for their members, especially the operators in this regard?

As far as the Commission is concerned there is no incentive for any kind for the SIM card registration. Before then, there was a meeting at the office of the National Security Adviser to the President and all the operators where invited. In fact, it was only chief executive officers (CEO) meeting; if you are not a CEO, you are not allowed into the meeting and the modalities where spelt out and they know it and there is nothing like incentives for them for now.

As a follow-up, the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators are dying is NCC planning any form of bail out for them?

NCC has chosen the path of technology neutrality and CDMA is a technology and business decision. So, for now, there is no bail out for any operator using any form of technology. They have the opportunity or option to deploy any other technology which they think is more favourable to their business decision.

On the enhanced competitive market, enhanced choices for the consumer?

There is need to enhance the competition in the market place today. Competition brings about the best in all the operators. Competition also breeds best atmosphere for the consumer.

Enhanced competition in the market and availability of choice is a statement of intention to fight for the interest of the consumer. Cost has always been the greatest complaint of the average consumer in Nigeria.

We shall make efforts to ensure that costs continue to drop. In a true competitive environment, there is no reason why prices will not drop. When you have true competition, prices will drop. We will continue vigorously pursue programmes that will deepen competition and bring down prices, such as introduction of more operators and programmes such as number portability. We want to address this through strategic actions aimed at improving competition and accountability of the service providers to the consumers of their products and services.

In this regard, we shall improve on some areas of outreach between the service providers and consumers to ensure that consumers are fully aware of their rights. Such issues like deployment of more customer care centres by the operators, as subscriber bases increase, will be pursued with more vigour.

On vigorous compliance monitoring, enforcement of regulations and directions?

We have observed a major lapse in the disposition of the service providers towards compliance to regulations or directions issued by the Commission. This is as a result of a combination of factors, including sanctions for none compliance that are not commensurate to the degree of breach. This is prevalent in spite of the fact that same service providers are fully consulted during the processes of formulation of the regulations.

In some cases, factors attributable to the harsh operating environment have put the regulator at the long end of wielding the big stick. It would therefore appear that the service providers have taken this soft approach towards enforcement and compliance to regulations for granted in the discharge of their responsibilities to the nation, the Commission and the consumers.

We need to state clearly that it will no longer be business as usual. As we move into the next focus of regulation with emphasis on compliance, the Commission under us, will give a lot of emphasis on compliance monitoring and strict enforcement of extant regulations and directions. Since these regulations were products of wide consultation, it is incumbent on the Commission to see to their full compliance.

A lot of consumer issues prevalent in the industry today are as a result of tardy compliance to regulations instituted by the regulator. The situation must change and all the stakeholders in the industry will need to inject a new corporate governance approach towards compliance to existing regulations and directions.

Why NCC set up Compliance department?

To give a push in this aspiration the Monitoring and Compliance Department recently set up by the Commission is being equipped with the human and material resources needed for effective performance of their jobs in line with the new focus of the Commission. Regulations and directives of the Commission will not only be obeyed, but seen to be obeyed.

In cases where regulations are not equipped with adequate sanctions to compel adherence or recompense, we are going to look at those regulations with a view to effecting reviews as quickly as possible.

How do you intend to achieve the national connectivity for accelerated growth?

One of the key milestones in the measurement of the attainment of the vision statement of the Commission is in the reduction of distance to access to telecommunications services for every Nigerian.

Achieving national connectivity through deployment of fibre rings across the nation and cascading broadband and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure will form our road map in promoting availability and access for national economic and social development.

The programmes and projects of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) secretariat, the Wire Nigeria (WIN) project and the State Accelerated Broadband Initiative (SABI), will form the plank for this major focus aimed at accelerated access provisioning in Nigeria. These projects will be restructured to give them more verve to achieve these objectives within realistic timelines. General roll out of broadband access will be encouraged as we focus in this area.

Essence of open access model?

We are currently working with some international consultants to implement a structured approach for a regulatory framework for optic fibre deployment including an exploratory review of the relevance of the “open access model” to Nigeria.

The “open access model” is a framework for infrastructure sharing where fibre optic cable carriers share the infrastructure used in the deployment of their fibre cables. This model can be designed to bridge the gaps in broadband deployment through central deployment to mid and small sized operators at subsidized pricing. The model provides services to operators on a fair and non discriminatory basis.

Without a robust national connectivity, the nation will not derive maximum benefits from the availability of major submarine fibre cables with landing points in Nigeria, and many others expected to land in the nation’s shores. This is why that Commission will intensify efforts to achieve appreciable national connectivity in the next five years.

How to enhance international relations?

Under our administration, we shall give more vents to our international relations and interactions. The benefit of this focus translates in the attraction of investments, projects and good image to the country.

With our population and positioning in Africa, the visibility of our country, especially within the international telecom decision making bodies and organizations need to be enhanced. In this direction, we will reconstruct our approach to international telecom relations with a view to sharpening our visibility and playing in the main stream of international relations for the Commission and country.

It is also in this direction that our delegation met recently in Mexico at the 10th Plenipotentiary Meeting with the Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, Dr. Hamadoun Toure, for the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) in Nigeria to be conferred the status of Centre of Excellence.

Our roles in such sub-regional bodies like West Africa Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA), will be enhanced as the pioneer of such organization as we now have some Nigerian companies rolling out services across the Nigerian borders.

The role of NCC under your leadership?

What I have tried to do here is to give some few areas of focus. This is by no means the complete portfolio of our focus. You know our role is to also advise government on major issues in telecommunications and ICT development. We shall continue to work with government as a major stakeholder.

You may be aware that the Ministry of Information and Communications is currently reviewing the National Telecommunications Policy. Some of our programmes will be guided by the recommendations of the new policy when it is launched.

There are some ideals with which this Commission is known, such as transparency, openness, fairness, firmness, and forthrightness. We will continue to cherish those ideals because they are an integral part of the credo of the Commission.

Appeal to stakeholders?

I also want to use this opportunity to request your support for all the programmes and activities of the Commission.

We will continue to work with the media as a partner in achieving our goals because you form a critical stakeholder in our regulatory activities. I will also request you to be very objective in your coverage of the industry.

So, I invite you to share in our aspirations to create awareness among all our stakeholders, especially the consumers of telecommunications services in the country.

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