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‘Fixation with telecoms affecting other sectors’

‘Fixation with telecoms affecting other sectors’

Telecoms firms operating in the country have blamed over-concentration of attention of consumers on the telecoms sector for the poor performance of other sectors of the economy in the provision of world class services.

Their umbrella body, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), urged members of the public to also encourage other service providers such as those in power, banking, aviation, transportation and others to deliver services at the same global standards being demanded from the telecoms industry.

Chairman of the association, Gbenga Adebayo, said: “It just may be that the over-concentration of attention on the telecoms sector is one of the reasons why these sectors continue to take consumers for granted, providing services below par.”

Adebayo, who was reacting to the editorial of one of the national dailies which he said, displayed a lack of understanding of the industry, said the sector remained one of the best regulated (if not over-regulated) sector when compared with other sectors of the economy. He said to its credit, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) under the leadership of Prof Umar Dambatta  has been a champion of regulatory best practice, which emphasises proactive approach to issues; rather than playing to the gallery by imposing draconian sanctions as the piece seemed to have advocated.

He said: “In fact, the NCC has in several cases imposed heavy sanctions on our members for infractions. While ALTON often disagrees with the NCC on some of these sanctions, it would be unfair for anyone to suggest that the Commission has been lax or overly accommodating of breaches of any kind.

“We are also deeply concerned that although the challenges faced by telecoms operators in Nigeria were highlighted, it unfairly down-played the effect of these challenges on service provision.

“It is on record that in 2001 when the industry was liberalised, many global players shunned the opportunity because of dearth of supporting infrastructure. Those who eventually took up the licences paid as high as $285million for each licence on the assurance that the licence fees would be used to build and/or improve supporting infrastructure, particularly power and transmission networks. Eighteen years after, operators are still left to self-provide power, transmission, security and other supporting infrastructure which are taken for granted in other jurisdictions. Telecoms operators spend over N30 billion on diesel per annum, which is one of the highest usage in the country today. This, to us, should be of concern to any serious telecom sector analyst.”

According to Adebayo, it is also rather disturbing that the issues of Right of Way (RoW), multiple taxation, vandalism of infrastructure, accessibility issues and shutting down of telecom infrastructure were identified but described as “weak arguments” for poor performance.

“In the first place, we make bold to state that the quality of telecoms services in Nigeria is amongst the best in comparable jurisdictions, despite the challenges our members face in their day-to-day operations. Secondly, it is remarkable that despite the extremely high cost of providing services in Nigeria, the telecoms industry is the only sector where charges have been stable (even falling). Our members daily do battle the state, local government agencies which aggressively harass them to pay both legitimate and illegitimate taxes and levies which runs to several million naira in some cases, they daily  contend with high costs of diesel, frequent theft of equipment, etc. without increasing tariffs. It is on record that the cost of building one BTS site in Nigeria will build three similar structures in Ghana.

“Despite all these, our subscribers pay far less tariffs per minute than they paid five years ago, and data charges have continued to fall over the years as we struggle to democratise access to life-changing telecoms services. Indeed, we challenge them to name any other service that has resisted inflationary trends as telecoms service. Not even the price of pure water has been as stable as telecoms services. ALTON members and the industry regulator deserve commendation for this feat, not scurrilous condemnation,” Adebayo said.

ALTON, he said agrees that there are service quality and ethical concerns in some segments of the telecoms industry.

He said: “We assure that our members are assiduously working with the regulator and other stakeholders to tackle these concerns in the best interests of our subscribers. However, it would be most unfair to downplay the impact of service ecosystem issues as the piece sought to do. Demanding world class services without championing holistic improvements in supporting infrastructure which directly impact the quality of such services is rather cheap and disingenuous. When the Kogi State government recently shut down about 20 BTS in that state, over 150 other base stations in at least nine states and the FCT were affected and subscribers in these states suffered serious service disruptions. The loss to both the operators and Nigeria would be difficult to quantify. In how many other countries do operators have to grapple with this kind of problems?”

He solicited the support of all the critical stakeholders in the country to ALTON and the NCC in efforts to drive awareness amongst federal, state and local government officials on the need to protect telecoms infrastructure in the same way power, security and other infrastructure are protected in the country. This is the only way to guarantee improved services, he insisted.

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