" ITREALMS: NBC and sale of spectrum to MTN

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

NBC and sale of spectrum to MTN


Deceit! That six-letter word played out in the controversial sale of 700MHz spectrum to MTN Nigeria by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

In the first instance, MTN bought the spectrum under dubious circumstances. It claimed that it would use it for Digital Terrestrial Television! But alas! We have heard it from the horse’s mouth that the spectrum will be used to provide broadband services!

One major advantage of lower frequencies such as 700MHz is that it can offer cost-effective broadband services since the frequency travels faster than other spectrum bands.

Indeed, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had identified the cost-effectiveness of 700MHz spectrum and therefore signed a treaty on the transfer of the spectrum from the broadcasting industry to the telecoms sector.

What is of grave concern is that the reputation of the country will be at stake considering that this particular sale clearly breached anti-corruption principles. Also, this spectrum allocation to one operator ahead of others may lead to an imbalance in the market which may be difficult to correct if the sale is allowed to stand, then others would need to play catch up if at all they are able to acquire the 700MHz spectrum in 2017.

The NBC overstepped its boundary by the sale and transfer the 700MHz to MTN Nigeria. The Agency’s responsibility stopped at freeing up the band by completing the digital broadcast migration. Thereafter the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was to handle the sale through a bidding process.

NBC’s action is wrong and indefensible. The NBC does not understand the intricacies of regulating the telecom industry and as such should not have meddled with the industry’s affairs. Nigeria will perhaps be making dubious history as the first country to sell such a scarce national asset without an open and transparent bidding process!

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must be diligent in getting to the root of this shady deal and the NCC must follow through to ensure that the report on the outcome of the investigation is published as promised.

*Contributed by Obafemi Ogunsolawe, a consumer rights activist. He writes from Abuja.
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