" ITREALMS: Improving telecom services: A visit to Fashola

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Improving telecom services: A visit to Fashola

Telecoms Clinic with Remmy Nweke

FOR a lot of Nigerians, especially those using the services of mobile network operators otherwise known as the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM), the apex telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is not concerned about Quality of Services they are experiencing in the bourgeoning telecommunications sector in the country.

This disposition has caused some Nigerians and uninformed industry watchers to formulate all manner of vocabularies for the Nigerian Communications Commission and of course its leadership.

On this premise that it’s important to do some education for those of us subscribers and industry watchers alike, who may still be wallowing in assuming ignorance to recall that not long ago, the management of the Nigerian Communications Commission handed down some directives to all the mobile operators.

This directive followed the decline in Quality of Service (QoS) in the networks, NCC had intimated three major networks, namely MTN, Airtel and Globacom of its intention to issue direction if the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set for QoS were not met by end of certain month, precisely November, 2011.

The outline for the KPIs include Call Set-up Success Rate (CSSR), Call Completion Rate (CCR), Stand-alone Dedicated Controlled Channel Congestion (SDCCH), Hand-over Success Rate and Traffic Channel Congestion (TCH Cong). Hence, service providers were given a deadline of November 30, to meet the above KPIs or be sanctioned.

Commenting on the aforementioned then, Director, Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission, Mr. Tony Ojobo, confirmed this development, noting that at the expiration of the period given to service providers to improve on their networks, the Commission carried out a drive-test to confirm the level of compliance to NCC’s directive.

Ojobo said that the outcome of the test had revealed that Etisalat and Visafone have been consistent in their improvement towards good quality service provision. While Airtel recorded a significant improvement for the last quarter, Globacom, Starcomms and Multi-links showed noticeable improvements. Even as MTN and Zoom Mobile showed slight step up.

The Commission, he said, is aware of the complaints of consumers arising from poor quality of service and this necessitated the directive that was given to the service providers.

“The over-riding objective of that directive is to ensure that service providers continue to invest in infrastructure with a view to ensuring continuous improvement in the quality of service provided,” he said.
NCC, he further said, urged service providers to continue to invest in infrastructure in order to ensure that the KPIs are met totally. Advising then that operators ensured that the necessary investments were made on the expansion of their infrastructure to be able to cope with the expected rise in voice and data traffic during festive seasons and at all times.

“Any further decline in the Quality of Service (QoS) during this season will be unacceptable,” he had declared.

What the above scene painted is that NCC as the regulator is not sleeping, just as it ensures that services and its qualities keep improving.

Overtly, in continuation of NCC mission to ensure that Nigerian telecom consumers enjoy the best of the networks as they strive to improve services, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Eugene Juwah, recently sought the support of the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, in Aluasa, Ikeja.

Core essence of the visit to the Aluasa office was in connection to resolving identifiable problems associated with right of way (RoW), multiple taxes and levies at various levels of government, which have become serious impediments to realizing good quality of telecom services across the country.

Dr. Juwah who was at Alausa office, in company of two commissioners and other officials of the Commission, intimated the governor that the nation has about 119 million active subscribers as at the time of his visit and teledensity was at over 85 per cent from some 0.4 per cent, while telecoms contribute in excess of 7 .8 per cent to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to him, Lagos State controls over 15 per cent of the nation’s mobile phone subscriber population in Nigeria, hence its position is seen as critical in matters that affect telecommunications services, globally and in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Juwah noted the importance of reiterating that quality of services in Lagos, and indeed, other parts of the country, is not desirable, there are challenges contributing to this with the Right of Way issues being the most critical.

“We are already aware that you are involved with other governors in the National Economic Council in discussing and finding solutions to the issue of RoW in the country as currently being championed by Vice President NamadiSambo. We urge you to continue to support these patriotic efforts so that the objectives of providing easy passage for telecommunications infrastructure, to accelerate and encourage more investments in the country, are realized,” Juwah said.

Acquainting the Governor with the level of the nation’s infrastructure deficit with reference to the paucity of masts and towers, he pointed out that  in Nigeria with less than 25,000 base stations compared with a country like United Kingdom (UK) with  up to 65,000 base stations, stressing that a 2009 survey by the NCC showed that out of a total of 6,196 masts and towers in Lagos, 48 per cent belonged to corporate bodies and individuals, 25 per cent belonged to telecom operators, 18 per cent to banks, 8 per cent to unidentified owners and 2 per cent to the broadcast industry.

He emphasised that even if the number of base stations owned by operators, which was 2,975 then, had increased by 100 per cent, it would still have fallen short of what is needed to serve Lagos subscribers alone. 

“Your Excellency, this situation is made worse by multiple taxations and regulations that await the service providers at the various levels of government, including state governments, local governments, and even some communities. In most cases, unfortunately, telecom masts and towers easily become specific targets for multiple taxes and regulations even where there are other masts and towers in existence, or even when appropriate taxes have been imposed at the Federal Level. 

Hence, given the scenario of infrastructure deficit that currently exist in Nigeria, the situation on ground sounds very discouraging as some of the service providers depend on very few base stations to serve the populace.

“We have noticed that some of these regulations exist in Lagos and it is our hope that this progressive administration will be disposed to taking a serious look at some of them with a view to eliminating double and inequitable taxation. This will in turn engender an enabling business environment that would encourage more investments and accelerate deployment of more telecom infrastructure and facilities,” he said.

Dr. Juwah also notified the Governor on the issues of vandalization of telecommunications infrastructure which has taken its toll on the quality and availability of services, and the need to support the Commission in pursuit of the critical infrastructure bill at the National Assembly as Lagos is mostly affected in any of these vandalization incidents.

The EVC, NCC extended hands of fellowship to the Governor for collaboration in the implementation of the Emergency Communications Centres (ECC), across the country as the pilots have already been commissioned at Awka and Minna, so that Lagos will be a model city for this national assignment which the Commission has elected to bring to the nation.

Responding, Governor Fashola commended Dr. Juwah “for the thoughtfulness and initiative of the broadband,” stressing that NCC though regulates the allocation of frequencies, bandwidths and so many other things, but incidentally cannot regulate where the towers and mast are positioned.

“You need me as indeed you need all of my colleagues (governors) to determine where the right of way will be and under what conditions and this was the point that we took,” Fashola said.

However, he regretted that a lot of time have been lost in the legal process in the matter of approvals for the operators for erection of masts because of the disagreement with his government which refused to grant approvals for new installations and government’s insistence on  collocation, payment of levies, and quality of installations.

Fashola, who promised to bring the dispute out of the courts for amicable settlement, went to note that he disagreed with the use of the term multiple taxation as a proper way to describe levies being imposed on operators for services rendered to them at state levels as the operators’ licenses for operation does not foreclose payment for the land and other associated fees.

“It is an incidence of the nature of business that they have entered, the issues we should be talking about is how to mitigate cost and that is what I’ve told my colleagues that we cannot make revenue from the cost of right of way or from the cost of setting up masts and towers,” he said.

Lagos State, he cited for instance, does not seek to do so in terms of making revenue from RoW, but see the revenue in the business growth that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and stronger broadband as well as fiber optic capacity given to citizens.

“… That’s where I see money. The revenue that comes from businesses, more people employed, paying more income tax is much more than what any government could ever collect,” he said.

Nevertheless, Governor Fashola chided the operators for not applying appreciable level of corporate governance as is evident in the type of contractors that they use, resulting in damages to infrastructure like roads already built by the government.

“There must be a sense of patriotism from the contractors and I choose my words very carefully, by the contractors being used by the telecom operators in laying their infrastructure, a sense of ownership and duty to protect the existing public asset. They’re not enough, so the few that we have, we must protect, it can’t be I want to do business, I want to give people telephone, I don’t care if we get lost, so this really is the heart of the matter,” he said.

As expected, Gov. Fashola also promised to “get the parties out of court, so that we can set a regulatory regime in which everybody can work together.”

So, as we wait for the Lagos State government to withdraw cases surrounding Right of Way, masts and towers as well as networks operators out of the court for settlement, the initiative by the NCC, must be commended as a regulatory organ with exemplary leadership, even if nothing else for initiating the move with the courtesy visit to Lagos.

And given the role Lagos State plays in the Nigeria’s economy as the centre of excellence, former capital city of the country, it is not surprising that the government of the day in Lagos knows the role it plays by ensuring it’s people’s centric; thus looking beyond mere charging of operators for right of way, but thinking of empowering the teeming unemployed population of Lagos, with the number of jobs that could come to its citizens eventually.Of which, all things being equal, could mean a sustained taxable revenue for jobs created rather than one-off payment from telcos.

NCC, from all indications, is not tired of extending this kind of overture to other states of the federation, if only to ensure that quality of services get better for the telecom consumers in the country. After all, customer is always the king.

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