Professor Umar Garba Danbatta
Professor Umar Garba Danbatta

Chronicling NCC’s strides since 2015

NEWS DIGEST – On August 4, 2015, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory authority for telecommunications in Nigeria. He was subsequently confirmed by the Senate on November 25, 2015. Since then, the professor of telecom engineering has worked with the support of the Board, Management and staff of the Commission to consolidate on the achievements of his predecessors at the telecom regulatory agency.

Precisely on August 4, 2015, Danbatta was appointed by the President and subsequently confirmed by the Senate on November 25, 2015 in line with the provision of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003, following thorough and rigorous screening by the Senator Gilbert Nnaji-led Communications Committee of the Senate.

Danbatta’s job as the umpire of the telecoms industry was affirmed for a five-year tenue in the first instance, as stipulated in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003. It is evident, four years and few months into the five-year term, Danbatta has left nobody in doubt about his competence as a regulator per excellence, having continued to provide the right and leadership at NCC.

On assumption of office at the NCC’s architectural masterpiece headquarters located in Maitama District, Abuja, the former University don began to effectively confront many challenges bedeviling the industry to enhance the development of a knowledge-driven, inclusive, globally-competitive and prosperous Nigeria through telecommunications.

Thus, Danbatta hit the ground running by unveiling his 8-Point Agenda, which was designed to provide a focus for the Commission and the industry as a whole over the next five years from 2015.  Focal issues on the agenda include facilitating broadband penetration, improving quality service, optimizing usage and benefits of spectrum, promoting ICT innovation and investment opportunities, facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership, protecting and empowering consumers, promoting fair competition and inclusive growth as well as ensuring regulatory excellence and operational efficiency.

Key Growth Statistics from 2015 till Date

From August 2015 till date, the industry has recorded impressive growth statistics, pointing to the effective regulatory environment created by the Commission. Today, telecoms contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) increased from 8.50 percent in August 2015 to 11.39 percent as at October, 2019. Active mobile voice subscribers increased from 151,018,624 to 2015 to 180,386,316 during the same period while teledensity increased to 94.50 percent following its rebasing in early 2019.

Internet subscribers increased from 90 million in 2015 to 123.5 million by October, 2019 while broadband penetration jumped from 8 percent to its current 37.87 percent, indicating a total of 72,289,389 Nigerian access data services on 3G and 4G networks.

Also, the number of subscriptions to Mobile Number Portability (MNP) service increased from 385, 617 in August 2015 to 1, 206,874 by October, 2019. This is attributable to increased public enlightenment by the Commission’s head office and its zonal offices across geo-political zones on the on the availability and usage of MNP. Similarly, the total number of telecoms subscribers that have subscribed either partially or fully to the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) service introduced by the Commission – to curb cases of unsolicited text messages – increased from level zero  to 22,356, 919 currently.

Upward trajectory of broadband penetration

One of the areas where the Commission has made significant contribution till date is in the area of broadband penetration. Following painstaking implementation of the 8-Point Agenda, the country achieved and surpassed its broadband penetration target of 30 percent by the end of December, 2018 as stipulated in the National Broadband Plan 2013-2015. A feat commended by all stakeholders in the country, appreciating the Commission for occupying the driver’s seat in the national drive for broadband development. Indeed, the implementation of the auspicious Agenda gained a lot of traction such that broadband penetration further increased from 32.34 percent (indicating 61,732,130 Nigerians on 3G and 4G networks) to 37.87 percent (indicating 72,289,389 on 3G and 4G networks) between January, 2019 and October, 2019 respectively.

Cognate efforts by the NCC in licensing new spectrum bands, re-farming certain frequency bands and driving initiatives for increased broadband infrastructure in the country, among others have collaboratively resulted in the consistent broadband growth. With increase in broadband penetration being recorded on a monthly basis, the Commission is well positioned to support the actualisation of the country’s digital economy policy strategy, as unveiled by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy late 2019. Just recently, the new National Broadband Plan Committee was inaugurated by the Minister Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, with the national mandate to come up with the new broadband target for 2020-2025.

Since 2015, the NCC’s passion for pervasive broadband penetration is evident in its drive to facilitate broadband penetration, which tops its 8-Point Agenda. The Commission has also articulated it clearly, at different fora, that access to broadband will become a fundamental metric for measuring economic development in Nigeria, as it will be central to the growth recorded in every other sector of the economy where telecoms would be propelling automation and digitisation.

Speaking at a forum, Danbatta averred that Nigeria’s thirst for data has grown in significantly, largely to the generational change of telecommunications from the use of voice-dominated technologies (1G and 2G) to today’s data dominated technologies of 3G, 4G and even the much-talked-about 5G. According to him, without doubt, more virtualised engagements are happening online and will continue to be, as it does appears the citizens have an insatiable need for data.

“Nigerians need robust and pervasive broadband connectivity more than ever before in today’s world, where people can easily interact with an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), carry out activities around e-commerce, e-government, and telemedicine, among others on a daily basis in a much seamless manner, thereby boosting their efficiencies,” Danbatta had said.

Rural Connectivity with TVWS Technology

Further to the strategic implementation of its 8-Point Agenda, the Commission has partnered with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and other necessary industry stakeholders to brainstorm on how to develop a framework for leveraging television white spaces (TVWS), as technology platform to extend affordable broadband services to rural, unserved and under-served communities in the country.

TVWS is the unused broadcast spectrum which can be deployed in the telecommunications sector to provide cost-effective broadband services to people in the rural, underserved and unserved areas of the country towards achieving universal access and universal service in line with the country’s digital agenda. The collaboration with the NBC was in line with the fifth pillar of the NCC’s 8-Poing Agenda focusing on facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership with necessary government agencies and stakeholders to drive the development frontiers of the industry.

The initiative for the use of TVWS in Nigeria was mid-wifed by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, following approval for the use of the TVWS technology by the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC). TVWS deployment is expected to further enable the NCC to facilitate its mandate to ensure universal access to digital services across the nooks and crannies of the country.

“Ensuring that all Nigerians are connected is our priority at the Commission. “We are continuously in a quest to achieving rural connectivity goal and this quest has led us, as a Commission, into embarking on several initiatives to actualise this pervasive connectivity objective in Nigeria,” said Austine Nwaulune, Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC said during a stakeholders’ forum on framework for the deployment of TVWS held earlier in 2019.

Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure across 774 LGAs

Closely related to the Commission’s efforts in deepening broadband penetration is its development of Open Access Model (OAM) initiative, principally aimed at extending access to digital services to all the 774 local government areas (LGAs) through the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) across geo-political zones.

To date, six InfraCo licences had been issued by the Commission. They include Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South Zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West Zone; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West Zone; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East Zone; MainOne Limited for Lagos Zone and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East Zone. The seventh and last licensee for the North-Central Zone of the country is being processed by the Commission.

As Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, the NCC is expected to provide a counterpart funding, in form of stimulus, to encourage investors of InfraCo to deploy fibre optic infrastructure across the country. Already, subsidy negotiations with the licensees had been concluded by the Commission and efforts are being tidied up by the telecoms regulator to secure Federal Government’s approval for the disbursement of the counterpart funding to the licensees. This, however, will be disbursed to the InfraCos upon attainment of certain milestones in their area of deployment.

During a visit by the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) to the Commission earlier in 2019, Danbatta had said that, “NCC had concluded the process leading to the disbursement of subsidies to the six licensed InfraCos in line with the digital transformation agenda of the Federal Government. The subsidy will augment the InfraCos’ capital expenditure (CAPEX).”

Spectrum Auctions and Related Initiatives

One aspect of the Commission’s regulatory activities which has added the needed fillip to its accomplishment with regards to broadband penetration is in the area of effective utilization of available spectrum. Apart from achieving and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration, the NCC had recorded some broadband-driving successes, especially in the area of spectrum auctions. These include the auction of the six slots of 2×5 megahertz (MHz) in the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) Band, re-planning of the 800 MHz band for Long Term Evolution (LTE), licensing of two slots of 10 MHz each in the 700 MHz band, as well as the opening up of the E-band spectrum 70/80 GHz band for both last-mile and backhaul services. Other regulatory instruments by the Commission in this regards include the Spectrum Trading Framework, which allows for transferability of spectrum licence from a dormant licensee to another operator that needs such spectrum which has been redundant for the deployment telecom services.

All these efforts are in keeping with the commitment of the Commission, as articulated by Danbatta early in 2015 that “NCC will develop and implement flexible, market-oriented spectrum regulatory policies that promote highly-efficient use of spectrum in ways that stimulate innovation, investment, and job creation and increased consumer benefits.”

Commitment to ICT Innovations in Telecoms Industry

In line with its commitment to promoting innovation to drive digital transformation, the NCC, in 2016, created its Research and Development (R&D) Department for the Commission in 2016, for the main purpose of synchronising the various ongoing research activities and other development projects being carried out by the Commission. This decision, which was in line with the provisions of the National Telecommunications Policy 2000 and the Nigerian National ICT Policy 2012, has helped the Commission to stimulate and sustain innovations in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry.

Till date, the Commission had disbursed millions of Naira, in grants, to sponsor innovation-oriented research projects in tertiary institutions and other research institutes across the country. Further to this tradition of driving ICT innovations through funding relevant researches in tertiary institutions, the Commission, in May 2019, announced N40 million endowment funds for Bayero University, Kano (BUK) and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). The funds would be utilised by the institutions to drive for innovation, research and development in the digital space with an ongoing commitment to expand the list of benefiting institutions.

A month after, precisely in June 2019, the Commission, again, demonstrated its determination to facilitating research and innovation in the telecoms industry by presenting the sum of N65 million to eleven (11) universities in Nigeria to drive innovation, research and development. Through the funding, the benefitting tertiary institutions were expected “to deliver research results and prototypes that are implementable, commercially-viable and capable of engendering innovation in different sectors of the economy.”

Today, the Commission continues to support young innovators, through providing them with opportunity to showcase their tech innovations at global telecoms conferences such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecoms World. Also, organising local competitions for technology innovators, on an annual basis, in order for them to competitively develop locally-relevant tech innovations and applications that can help grow the economy is parts of the NCC’s efforts in this regards.

The latest of such effort was the three-day Maiden Edition of the Innovation Competition/Exhibition Event hosted by the Commission at the Digital Bridge Institute Lagos Campus between from December 17, 2019 to December, 19, 2019, with the theme: “Promoting Innovation and Creativity in the Telecoms Sector”. The forum gathered some 25 shortlisted technological innovators to pitch their innovations before industry stakeholders for cash prizes provided by the Commission towards advancing their business ideas for full commercialization. After series and rounds of presentations, discussions as well as questions and answers sessions by the panel of judges and focusing on local content component of the innovators’ business plans, 10 best-in-class innovative ideas were shortlisted out of the 25 tech innovators from the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.

Consequently, from the 10 shortlisted innovators, QMartins Fidelis – founder of Qatalog Automates emerged the best; WICRYPT came second while Phaheem Pharmaceuticals Limited came third. They won N3 million, N2 million and N1 million respectively.

While addressing the audience at the event, the EVC of NCC, said the initiative was “in line with Item 4 of the Commission’s 8-Point Agenda, which speaks to promote ICT innovation and investment opportunities in the telecoms industry through promotion of digital knowledge and skills that can positively impact various sectors of the economy.”

Preparing Nigeria for next-gen tech resolution

In consonance with the 3rd and 5th items of its 8-Point Agenda focusing on ‘optimising usage and benefits of spectrum’ and ‘facilitating strategic collaboration and partnerships’, the NCC, in collaboration with the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) in the fourth quarter of 2018, held a workshop to examine the prospects and challenges of Next-Generation Networks (NGN) such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, among others, in the nation’s telecoms industry.

The workshop, according to Danbatta was “to provide an avenue for regulators, operators and investors as well as other stakeholders to examine and constructively exchange ideas on the main demand areas for next generation of services, spectrum licensing reforms and the requirements for 5G and other emerging technologies that are to revolutionise the telecom system and users.” The workshop, thus, formed the precursor to the country’s preparedness for the impending deployment of 5G technology, whose commercial deployment on a large-scale and global level is expected to commence fully by 2020.

Consequently, in the last quarter of 2019, the Commission, in its proactive regulatory approach, mid-wifed the trial of Fifth Generation (5G) technology in Nigeria. This made NCC the first telecoms regulator in the whole of West Africa to begin such a historic trial towards unleashing greater digital revolution in the country. Today, 5G trials had been successfully conducted in major cities including Abuja, Calabar and Lagos with MTN being the first operator to carry out the trial. Through 5G network deployment, Nigerian will have access to faster broadband speed on their network. This will result in more efficiency in the course of carrying out their personal and official activities.

Accordingly, the InfraCo framework will provide the needed robust broadband infrastructure upon which the 5G services will ride, thereby impacting e-learning, tele-medicine, e-agriculture, e-health, e-commerce and so on, in terms of speed, latency and more applications that can be made possible when 5G is pervasively deployed by operators in the country. In addition to this, the Commission has projected greater prospects for accelerating digital transformation in Nigeria, through making the country a truly knowledge and digital economy.

Parts of these include the determination of the Commission to ensure that all new base transceiver stations (BTS) to be built by mobile network operators (MNOs) are LTE-compatible; ensure the implementation of the harmonised Right of Way (RoW) charges on state and federal government highways at the cost of N145 per linear meter; ensure elimination of multiple taxation and regulations; facilitate spread of 3G coverage to, al least, 80 per cent of the Nigerian population over the current 56.4 per cent of the population covered with 3G networks.

Other projections by the Commission towards deepening digital transformation include  regulatory commitment to ensure operators upgrade their 2G BTSs to 3G; ensure spread of the impending 5G to, at least, five per cent of the population; determination to ensure spread of 4G/LTE services to 100 per cent of the population with a minimum broadband speed of 1.5 megabit  per second (Mbps); and finally deployment of, at least, one (1) Access Point of fiber with a 10 gigabyte per second (Gbps) capacity in all the 774 local government areas, among others.

Growth in Telecom Investment

Four years ago, the foreign direct investment (FDI) and local investment profile in the telecoms sector stood at $38 billion. But today, investment in the sector has grown significantly to over $70 billion. The Commission also continues to strengthen commitment towards pursue relevant policies to encourage more investment into the industry.

Speaking at the maiden Nigerian Telecom Leadership Summit (NTLS) held in Lagos in 2019, Danbatta, had noted that “the volume of telecom investment in Nigeria is very impressive and indicative of a very fast-growing and resilient sector of the economy. But, we will continue to advocate for more investment, given that the industry is very capital intensive, with the competition for FDI becoming fiercer among different nations.” Today, the Commission estimates that about 40 million Nigerians – especially those in the rural and semi-urban areas- are yet to be reached with basic telecom infrastructure and services.

According to Danbatta, “the argument for more investments becomes more compelling, given that this industry is very capital intensive, with the competition for Foreign Direct Investments (FDls), becoming fiercer among different nations. In our consultative regulatory process, we consider shared experiences, and shared vision as the best approach to equip us with the tools to continuously reposition towards the course of effective regulation.”

He stated further that, as the 4th Industrial Revolution blurs the lines between the physical, biological and digital boundaries, the industry will continue to witness challenges of investments to match growth and technology evolution dynamics. In this age, broadband is of critical importance with its potential to improve the economy of many nations. “We may all be aware of the empirical study by the World Bank, which suggests that for every 10 per cent growth in Broadband penetration results in 1.34 per cent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in developing countries. This is one of the reasons why we have developed the regulatory and licensing framework to accelerate broadband availability, accessibility and affordability,” Danbatta stated at the NTLS in Lagos.

Restructuring the telecom VAS Segment to Create Jobs, Improve Innovation

In the last four years, the Commission had succeeded restructuring value–added services (VAS) segment of the telecommunications sector through the development of VAS Aggregator Framework – a move that has helped to sanitise the industry. Today, the telecoms VAS segment, currently estimated at $200 million, is said to now have the potential to be worth over $500 million in the next few years.

Consequently, the Commission’s Board Resolution at its 88th sitting held on Thursday 27th September, 2018 considered and approved the recommendation for the grant of VAS –Aggregator Licence to nine companies. An additional licence has been added, bringing the number of licensed VAS Aggregators in the telecoms sector to 10. The licensed companies are: I-Cell Multimedia Limited, Nina-Jojer Limited, 21st Century Technologies Limited, Nitroswitch Limited, HML Consulting Limited, Iykejordan Limited, Cognys Systems Limited, Perpetual Communications Limited, Mobile Intelligence Limited and Aerandir Technologies Nigeria Limited.

Apart from boosting activities in the VAS segment of the telecoms space in Nigeria, the VAS aggregator licensees will improve innovation, local content, employment opportunities, and increase in income stream to both network operators and content developers.

Improving Consumer Protection, Empowerment

Perhaps, more profound in the agenda of the Commission is its Item 6 which consumer protection and empowerment. In the last four years, the Commission has intensified efforts at protecting and empowering consumers of telecoms services by developing new and sustaining existing initiatives in this direction.

Some of these initiatives include the popularisation of mobile number portability (MNP) service to give consumers wider choice to migrate from one network to another without changing their original line. This has also helped consumers from indiscriminately purchasing Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards to achieve their objective of being on another network that offer better service delivery.

The declaration of 2017 as Year of the Consumer was another giant step by the Commission. The philosophy of this initiative was dedicate 2017 and beyond to addressing critical issues affecting telecom, consumers in the industry. It is, therefore, interesting to note that since the 2017 declaration, NCC’s efforts at implementing consumer-centric initiatives have increased. This underscores the importance the Commission places on consumer a critical stakeholder in the telecoms value-chain.

Suffice it to say that in the last four years, the Commission has sustained periodic consumer engagement, on a continuous basis, through its various outreaches such as the Telecoms Consumer Parliament (TCP), the Consumer Outreach Programme (COP), the Consumer Town Hall Meeting (CTM), the Elite Forum as well as its Consumer Conversation forum, among others.

The NCC has demonstrated unflinching commitment to consumer in terms of consumer complaints resolution. For instance, through the creation of the Toll-Free Number, 622, as a second-level mechanism for consumer complaints resolution, telecoms consumers have found easier to escalate any service-related complaints they might have to the Commission for prompt resolution. According to NCC report, between January 2017 and December 2018, for instance, the Commission received a total of 118,784 complaints from consumers, of which a total of 92,757, representing 78 per cent of total complaints received during the two years period, were successfully resolved to the satisfaction of telecom consumers.

A similar report by the Commission showed that between January 2019 and October 2019 alone, a total of 19,841 complaints were received from telecoms consumers across its various consumer complaints channels. Of these, the NCC successfully resolved a total of 17,851, representing a 90 percent success rate of consumer complaints resolution during the period. It is noteworthy that a total of 18, 717 complaints were lodged to the Commission through the NCC Contact Centre. Little wonder, then, that based on the satisfaction they enjoyed in getting their complaints resolved by the Commission, a total of 19,345 satisfied consumers sent notes of commendation/appreciation to the Commission via phone calls made to the NCC Contact Centre and e-mails received via the NCC Consumer Portal. All of these were to appreciate the various regulatory interventions that helped them in satisfactorily resolving their service-related issues.

Consumer exposure to unsolicited text messages has declined drastically through the popularisation by the Commission and the resultant activation of the DND facility by the subscribers.  The DND facility has significantly helped the consumers to control unsolicited text messages. As of October 2019, a total of 22,356, 919 subscribers have activated the DND service either fully or partially.

Further to its consumer centric regulatory approach, the Commission has, so far, issued a number of regulatory Directions to operators. They include the direction on data roll-over, which enables consumers to roll over unused data for period of time, ranging from one day to seven days, depending on their data plan; and the direction on forceful subscription of data services and VAS, which directs service providers to desist from forceful/automatic renewal of data services without prior consent of subscribers. All these have continued to positively impact on the consumer’s quality of experience (QoE).

The Commission, in 2019, also stepped up operators’ compliance with service level agreement with respect consumer complaints management. In 2019, for instance, the NCC revised its Consumer Complaints & Service Level Agreement (CC/SLA) for the purpose of improving consumer complaint management and resolution by the service providers in a much prompter manner. More importantly, the focus of the NCC’s Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF)’s Open Forum held in the fourth quarter of 2019 was how to further protect the consumers with respect to financial frauds committed by criminals using telecoms platforms.

As a testament of its “multi-stakeholder spirit’ and in continuation of its efforts towards strengthening inter-agency collaboration, the NCC, in November 2019, inaugurated a 26-member multi-sectoral committee to combat the issue of financial frauds using telecoms or digital platforms.

The 26-man committee drew membership from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the NCC, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).

Other organisations with representation on the Committee include the banks, security agencies such as the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the Federal Ministry of Justice.

Curbing Menace of Call Masking, Call Refiling

In the wake of 2017, the menace of call masking/call refiling and SIM boxing reared their ugly heads and pronto, the Commission took drastic actions towards addressing the issue. Basically, call masking is when inbound international calls terminate in Nigeria as local number. This raises serious security concerns, competition issues among licensees and portends negative economic implications in terms of losses of appropriate taxes accrued to government through inbound international calls.  In fact, it is estimated that globally, call masking is causing economy $60 billion annually.

However, the Commission took a number of regulatory actions towards curbing the menace of call masking:  These include ensuring strict compliance monitoring and enforcement by the Commission; imposition of appropriate sanctions by the Commission on licensees involved in call refiling and masking activities; and suspension of numbering plans of some perpetrators and withdrawal of all their inactive numbering plans.

Other measures taken in this regard include the continuous sensitisation of consumers and other industry stakeholders on the dangers of call masking, which is still ongoing; the development and institution of new reporting requirements on interconnecting licensees that makes it easy and seamless to quickly identify perpetrators of call masking and the  Proof of Concept (PoC) commenced in July 2018 with the deployment of technology solutions to monitor, report, apprehend and block SIMs being used for SIM boxing activities and prevent SIM lines from being used for call masking activities.

The above smart interventions generated profound results for the industry. First, by end of 2018, call masking (otherwise called call line identity (CLI) spoofing) had dropped to more than 40 per cent compared to how prevalent it as of January 2018. Also, SIM boxing traffic was down by about 25 per cent as at September, 2 018.

Today, following further enforcement by the Commission for telcos to deploy special technology solution across their networks, cases of call-masking or call refiling, consumer complaints around call-masking has practically come to a halt.

Boosting Quality of Service, Investors’ Confidence

In keeping with its continuous commitment towards ensuring that telecoms operators deliver consistently improved QoS to their over 179 million subscribers, the NCC, in the last four years, embarked on a series of initiatives that have relatively helped in boosting the quality of service delivery across mobile networks. Through continuous monitoring of operators’ compliance with the Key Performance Indicator (KPS) on Quality of service (QOS) on a state-by-state level, as against measuring operators’ compliance on a national average basis, the regulator helped to boost QoS delivery in this regards. Today, complaints associated with call drops and related have reduced remarkably.

The Commission also stepped up stakeholder engagement and collaboration both within the private and public sectors of the economy to address salient and trendy issues affecting the industry, as it continues to make remarkable inroads in this direction.

The Commission’s timely interventions in Ogun, Kano and Kogi states among others to resolve cases of indiscriminate shutdown of telecoms sites by state agencies over disputed taxes and levies are worthy of highlighting. In Kogi State, for instance, more than 70 base stations were sealed by the Kogi Inland Revenue Service (KIRS) in 2018. Going by the nature of telecommunications service, which relies on 24/7 availability, each time a base station is shut down or sealed by a state agency, it automatically affects several services depending on such telecoms platform for proper functioning, exerting adverse effect on the economy of the affected area as a whole. It is instructive to note that a similar intervention by the Commission, in collaboration with the CBN, helped to rescue Etisalat Nigeria (now 9mobile) from the brink of collapse following a financial crisis involving a $1.2 billion syndicated loan obtained by the telco from a consortium of 13 banks. The landmark intervention gave the hitherto troubled telco a new lease of life as it has now regained its growth momentum.

Assuring investors of the regulator’s determination with regards to their safety of their investment in Nigeria, Danbatta had said at a forum that, “The NCC is working to address challenges facing the industry and most importantly, in the area of achieving a more friendly and enabling operating environment for faster telecoms infrastructure deployment. Only through this can we have improved Quality of Service (QoS) that will automatically translate to an improved Quality of Experience (QoE) for the over 172 million telecoms consumers in the country as well as sustain the confidence of investors in the telecom industry.”

He added further that, “the industry, having achieved over $70 billion investment, requires even greater infrastructure investment to achieve better digital transformation for our nation. To this end, all hands must be on deck. We need to understand the critical role access to telecoms services play in all the facets of our economy and we must work together to support the industry’s sustainability through improved quality of service and quality of experience for the consumers.”

The NCC, from time to time, engages consulting firms to carry out studies that aid its regulatory decision towards engendering healthy competition in the industry. For instance, the Commission engaged KPMG Professional Services to conduct a Study on the Assessment of the Level of Competition in the Nigerian Telecommunications Industry. Today, competition has led to optimal performance from the different service providers because there is always that pressure from the insatiable consumers.

Ensuring Regulatory Excellence and Operational Efficiency

It is important to state that all the successes so far recorded in the Nigerian telecom sector in the last four years have been as a result of its enthronement of regulatory excellence and operational efficiency. Today, its role as telecom industry watchdog has been able to stamp out monopoly through engendering healthy competition and protecting the interests of both the service providers cum investors as well as the subscribers. Local and international awards have come the way of the Commission in droves in recognition of its efforts in this regards.

Consistent with its commitment to engender operational efficiency, the Commission in inaugurated the use of a five-storey building constructed by Commission, in 2019, essentially meant to complement its Maitama Headquarters Building. Located at 1253 Cadastral Zone, Mbora District, Abuja, the project had been abandoned for a long period for lack of funds to complete the massive structure. Besides providing nearly a hundred-room office accommodation, the new building is equipped with facilities such as swimming pool, lawn tennis courts, underground car parks and a 600-seater auditorium for conferences and seminars.

Currently, no fewer than five departments of the Commission have since moved into the new building now called ‘NCC Head Office Annex’, using the world-class facilities and this has improved their operational efficiency. The move has also helped to significantly decongest the Head Office Building of the Commission located at Maitama District, Abuja for effective regulatory operations. More importantly, the continuous hosting of most of the Commission’s activities inside the 600-seater auditorium architecturally situated within the new building is said to have been resulting in appreciable cost-saving for the Commission. This move, thus, gives concrete expression to the Commission’s compliance with the cost-cutting measures of the Federal Government as directed by the supervising ministry.

Deepening Stakeholder Engagements

Since 2015, no week has passed without the NCC engaging with one group or agency of governmnet or the other across the country. This, the Commission considered important because of the daunting tasks and challenges in the industry. So far, the regulator has had consultations with several stakeholders as critical success factor in its regulatory mandate and consultations with stakeholders had yielded enormous positive results.

For instance, apart from the monthly Telecom Consumers Parliament, the Commission has always engaged the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), collectively and individually, to address industry challenges, in the areas of multiple taxation, regulations and Right of Way, among others. These engagements, no doubts, have brought about effective partnerships with relevant stakeholders, thereby fostering ICT for sustainable economic development and social advancement. The Commission, in the last four years, has held several regional stakeholders fora across the six geo-political zones in order to sensitise various stakeholders on such issues as telecom infrastructure protection, invalidly-registered SIMs, and so on.  Several fora are also being held with the academia and other professional bodies towards ensuring proper linkages in the industry.

Facilitating Telcos’ Listing on NSE

The credit for the listing of MTN Nigeria on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), in 2019, largely goes to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for its smart regulation of the nation’s telecoms industry through ensuring operators’ compliance with the rules of the game in the industry. The listing was one of the dividends of a ‘no-nonsense’, outstanding and effective regulatory posture of the Commission. The listing of MTN has, thus, served as tonic to other telcos to follow in the same direction such as the listing of Airtel.

As the country’s independent telecoms regulatory authority, the NCC essentially facilitated the landmark listing of the country’s largest telecommunications operator on the bourse in line with its mandate, as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (2003) and other subsidiary regulations to promote investment, create a level-playing field for all licensees, ensure compliance to existing telecoms laws and facilitate delivery of top-notch quality of services (QoS) delivery to the consumers.

Suffice to say that through this smart regulation and intervention by the NCC, leading to the listing of MTN on the NSE, a new vista of opportunity has been created in the history of telecommunication industry in Nigeria. Through the listing, Nigerians are being empowered to own, control and manage shares in MTN Nigeria.

Commenting on the listing during a forum held in Abuja in 2019, the EVC of NCC had said: “The MTN listing has helped to translate into action, an important objective of the Commission, which is to promote local investment and ownership in the telecom sector. Also, with MTN shares available in the capital market, it is expected that Nigerians will buy shares and by purchasing the shares of MTN, they will be financially empowered and be socially transformed.”

“In addition to benefits to the consumers, we all know that telecoms is a capital-intensive industry and of late, we have found out that the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the sector has not been as much as it used to be and there is so much for the telcos to still do in terms of expansion and this expansion requires capital. Industry issue bordering on poor quality of service is being partly traced to lack of sufficient infrastructure to cover the entire country.

Also, one of the benefits of telcos listing on the NSE lies in the opportunity they have in raising more capital for network expansion, which will, in turn, bring about improvement in the quality of service delivery and quality of experience for telecom consumers.

Despite the seeming volatility of the Nigerian capital market, the telcos’ listing has helped in making the market capitalisation more bullish. Today, capital market regulator and shareholder bodies have commended the effort of the NCC in making the capital market more resilient through facilitating telcos listing – a move that was the results of the conditions for settling the sanctions imposed on MTN for violating subscriber registration rules in the telecommunications sector.

Boosting FG’s Push for Improved Security of Lives and Property

The NCC has lived up to expectation in the last four years of through aligning itself with the ongoing efforts of the Federal Government to improve security of lives and property for Nigerian citizens. This effort has been in the area of reinvigorating the implementation of the Emergency Communication Centres (ECC) project and the continuous cleaning up of the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards database. The ECC project is an initiative capable of offering a round-the-clock access to Nigerians, who may seek help during emergencies or impending threats to life and property, wherever they may be in Nigeria by merely dialing 112 Emergency Number as unveiled today. This is aside several other socio-economic benefits this security-enhancing project brings to Nigerians.

First, in line with the decision of the Federal Government to enhance security of lives and properties in the country and in apparent response to public demand, the National Assembly, in 2003, enacted the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 and in Section 107 (3) (a) & (b) of that Act, the NCC was given some mandates. The mandates include taking immediate steps upon the commencement of the Act to promote and enhance public safety through the use of a particular number which shall be designed as the universal safety and emergency assistance number for telephone services generally; and encouraging and facilitate the prompt deployment throughout Nigeria of seamless, ubiquitous and reliable end-to-end infrastructure for emergency communications needs.

Consequently, the Commission realised that the task of ensuring security is not the sole responsibility of the government or a government. Rather, all must be involved to bring the security situation under control because security threats are not limited to any section of the country. This informed why the NCC, in the last four years, has continuously paid special attention to the implementation of the ECCs.

The ECC project will definitely add a lot of value to our security architecture by providing useful information on emergency situations to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other emergency and law enforcement agencies, which are expected to provide the much-needed help to Nigerians during emergency situations.

The ECC project got fully activated, following the NCC’s resolve to pay greater attention to the implementation of the ECC project in the last four years. Today, the number of operational ECCs has increased drastically to 17 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital (FCT), Abuja – 18 ECC in all. The list of beneficiary states includes: Benue, Kwara, Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Adamawa and the FCT, Abuja.

The commissioning of the National Emergency Toll-Free Number “112” and the Katsina State ECC to take care of the North-West geo-political zone was successfully carried out on September 23, 2019. Necessary preparations and arrangements are, however, ongoing towards ensuring successful launch/commissioning of such centres, including publicity and enlightenment in the remaining five (5) geopolitical zones and the FCT.

In recognition of the important role of the Commission in leveraging ECC to boost security in the country, the NCC was conferred with the award of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Security and Emergency Management while its Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, was recognised as Nigeria’s Goodwill Ambassador in Security and Emergency Management. The recognitions were received at the 2019 Maiden Security and Emergency Management Awards hosted in Abuja last December by the Emergency Digest, in conjunction with the Centre for Crisis Communication.

Closely linked to the NCC’s efforts in implementing security-focused initiative was the Commission’s ongoing efforts towards sanitising the country’s SIM database for increased security in the country. In 2019, over 24 million invalidly-registered subscriber records were scrubbed (deduplicated) by the Commission via Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) in fulfilment of the mandate to establish a credible database of telephone subscribers.

Licensing of 10 VAS aggregators

Following the development of its Value-Added Service (VAS) Aggregator Framework for the telecoms VAS segment, the NCC, in 2019, awarded the VAS Aggregator licences to 10 companies to provide aggregator services. The award of such licences is expected to boost the competitiveness of telecoms VAS segment. The framework will also help to unlock the huge potential of the telecoms VAS market, which has been estimated to be worth $500 million in the next few years. The VAS Aggregator licensees are I-Cell Multimedia Limited, Nina-Jojer Limited, 21st Century Technologies Limited, Nitroswitch Limited, HML Consulting Limited, Iykejordan Limited, Cognys Systems Limited, Perpetual Communications Limited, Mobile Intelligence Limited and Aerandir Technologies Nigeria Limited.

Regularising Commercial Satellite Operations for Increased Access

In line with the relevant provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003, the Commission, in 2019, finally regularised the activities of all commercial satellite operators including space station operators and earth station operators. It also issued Landing Permits to Space Stations beaming signals over Nigerian territory. In June, 2019, the Commission granted its first-ever landing right permit (licence for satellite internet) to Avanti Communications Groups Plc, a United Kingdom-based satellite operator, for hosting of its HYLAS 4 Satellite specie segment over Nigerian territory. The landing permit, which was the first of its kind in satellite communications in Nigeria, implies authorisation that allows operators to beam its signal over the territorial integrity of a country.

Chief Regulatory Officer of Avanti, Ann Vandenbroucke, stated during the granting of the permit by the Commission that the deployment of the satellite would enable immediate broadband access and faster internet services to Nigerians, saying the permit was a big step forward for Nigeria and its economy. The company further stated that it was “attracted to invest in Nigeria because of the stable and predictable regulatory environment.”

Combating E-waste, IT Counterfeiting

Early in 2019, the Commission unveiled regulation on e-waste and guidelines on distaste recovery at a stakeholder engagement forum held in his office in Abuja. On the e-waste regulations, the Commission sees e-waste as electrical or electronic equipment that is waste, including all components, sub-assembles and consumables that are part of the equipment at the time the equipment becomes waste. Apart from their solid and non-biodegradable nature, some of the toxic elements found in e-waste include lead, mercury, lithium and other ozone-depleting substances.

“A recent report by World Economic Forum (WEF) indicates that electronic waste (e-waste) is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. It is estimated that this waste stream spiked by about 48.5 million tonnes in 2018. In Africa, the challenge is even direr. In a fast-paced telecoms industry where speed and capacity define the networks, rapid advances in technology make it easier and convenient to change malfunctioning gadgets than to repair them. Also, illegal and predatory e-waste value chain, which encourages the movement of e-waste from developed to the developing countries, adds another layer to the global challenge of handling e-waste,” Danbatta stated during a stakeholder forum held in Abuja in 2019 to on the e-waste regulation.

Notably, the global concern for the regulation of e-waste is two-pronged. The first is the acute awareness of the hazardous properties and the potential risk on human health, as well as their capacity to degrade the environment. The second is the business case and vast potential for wealth creation in recycling e-waste into more benign and productive uses. In Nigeria, due to low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita/low income and the desperate quest for information, it is estimated that 75 per cent of electronic devices and equipment imported into the country are irreparable and toxic junk. In line with its regulatory mandate and to keep pace with efforts at managing e-waste-related issues, therefore, the Commission developed the draft regulations on e-waste.

The draft regulations represent a holistic regulatory intervention aimed at providing clarity and delimiting the responsibilities of various stakeholders in the e-waste value-chain within the telecommunications industry. While the draft regulation is industry-specific, it, nonetheless, keys into other initiatives at national and international levels.

In a similar token, the NCC has raised the bar of compliance to standards by the mobile network operators in lien with ITU recommendations and standards. For instance, through its Technical Standards and Network Integrity Department and the continuous enforcement activities of the Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Department, the Commission has, in the last four years, ensured improved standardistion in the nation’s telecoms industry.

To date, the NCC, in its regulatory activities, placed great premium on setting standards that are in line with the globally-approved ITU standards as well as ensuring compliance with the standards set by the telecoms equipment vendors/manufacturers, the user licensees and the end users who use terminal devices to receive telecommunications services. The Commission has also put in place a sound equipment type-approval process that guarantees that ICT/telecoms equipment brought into the country for service provisioning are in line with international standards and are not constituting any health hazards to the individual service users and the environment at large.

The Commission has, therefore, stepped up collaboration that will further ensure that substandard/counterfeit devices that can easily result in increased e-waste in the country are curtailed, through increasing its collaboration on telecom equipment standardization. In February, 2019, the NCC, in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and other government agencies, set up two committees to combat the cases of fake and substandard mobile devices that manufacturers bring into the country without recourse to the Commission standardisation process.

The two joint committees set up are the Project Steering Committee (PSC), comprising the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Federal Ministry of Communications and the NCC; and the Project Delivery Team (PDT) which draws representation from the Federal Ministry of Communications, the ICRC, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the NCC.

The committees, with specific terms of references, are to work together to ensure the implementation of Mobile Devices Management Systems (DMS), a Public-Private Partnership project, aimed at combatting the proliferation of fake, counterfeit, substandard and cloned mobile communications devices in the telecommunication industry. The move is in line with the mandate of the Commission, as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003, to type-approve all devices used in the telecommunications industry and to ensure that all devices used in the telecommunications industry are in line with agreed standards and specifications.

Strengthening Corporate Governance Code with Disaster Recovery Regulations

The NCC has also developed a Disaster Recovery Guidelines specifically to strengthen corporate governance in the telecommunications industry.  Basically, a disaster is a serious disruption of the function of a community, society or a business. Disasters often involve widespread human, material or environmental impact, which exceed the ability of the entity to cope with using its immediate resources. The Disaster Recovery Guidelines of the NCC, therefore, ties into the Commission’s wider risk management initiatives introduced by the Code of Corporate Governance launched by the Commission in 2014, which are aimed at protecting telecoms companies from the threat of emergencies in their operations. It covers subjects such as disaster profiling, disaster preparedness, disaster relief and disaster recovery.

Other Key Projects to Deepen Digital Access in the Country

Asides several other interventions since 2015, the Commission in 2019 embarked on such projects Wireless Internet Cloud, Laptop Project, Computer Based Test (CBT) Centres project and ICT Park project. The Wireless Cloud Project is an initiative to provide a platform for supporting campus-wide wireless access to internet service for teaching, learning, research and development to faculty staff and students of the nation’s Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Universities and Hospitals through the provision of the necessary infrastructure, including masts, antennas, networking and twelve (12) months bandwidth supply and maintenance support. During the period under review, the Commission successfully implemented the Wireless Internet Cloud in 150 beneficiary institutions at various locations in the country.

The Laptop Project is an initiative to supply, brand, configure and integrate into the cloud laptop computers with e-learning suites in higher institutions across the country. During the period under review, the Commission successfully implemented the supply of laptops in 230 beneficiary institutions at various locations in the country. In line with NCC’s strategic collaboration & partnerships drive, the Commission is currently implementing the CBT project in Six (6) locations across the Country which includes: FCT, Katsina, Abia, Ondo, Gombe and Anambra States. This is a special intervention Programme by the Commission aimed at establishing state-of-the-art facilities where online examinations can be conducted to entrench efficiency, effectiveness and curb examination malpractices. It is implemented in the 6 Geopolitical Zones in conjunction with the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

The ICT Park is annother initiative by the Commission to establish a fully functional Digital Industrial Complex (DIC) to drive ICT Development and support Technology Start-Ups in beneficiary States and its environs. The Commission is currently building ICT Parks in four (4) locations across the Country, namely Kano, Borno, Ogun and Enugu States.

ITU’s Positive Rating of Nigeria for Regulatory Exploits

As a testament to NCC’s unwavering commitment towards employing cross-sectoral approach and stakeholder collaboration in its regulatory finesse, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2018 rated Nigeria high for continuously exhibiting responsiveness, progress and dynamism in the regulation of its over $70 billion telecommunications industry.

In its ‘2018 ICT Regulatory Tracker’ launched in July, 2019, the United Nation’s telecoms regulatory organisation stated that Nigeria scored 78.33 out of 100 marks benchmark for last year, putting Nigeria 12th among  48 African countries and standing ahead of 36 other. The achievement is coming barely two years after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the independent telecoms regulatory authority in Nigeria, was acknowledged by ITU as one of the ‘foremost telecoms regulators in Africa.’

In the report, ITU calculates the overall scores from four clusters, namely: Cluster 1- Regulatory Authority (20 marks); Cluster 2-Regulatory Mandate (22 marks); Cluster-3 Regulatory Regime (30 marks); and Cluster 4-Competition Framework.  In each of these four parameters, Nigeria’s regulatory ecosystem scored 17, 20, 20, 21.33, respectively, totaling 78.33, which is above what about 36 countries out of the 48 African countries and a number of countries from other continent recorded, thereby putting Nigeria’s telecoms regulator in a positive rating.

The rating is, however, not surprising because the NCC has continued to regularly hold stakeholder consultations on several regulatory matters; collaborate with national, regional and global telecommunications bodies; sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with other regulatory agencies such as the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Nigeria Police, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (formerly Consumer Protection Council), the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), the GSM Association (GSMA), Nigerian Army Resource Centre (NARC), among others.

Also, regarding ensuring operational efficiency and regulatory excellence, the NCC has continued to carry out a lot of regulatory interventions in delivering on this mandate. For instance, the NCC has intensified compliance monitoring exercises on the licensees, successfully resolved N1.03 trillion fine against MTN which has led to the listing of MTN and Airtel on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).

The Commission, under Danbatta, has also promoted corporate governance in the industry, developed a framework for participation in ITU working Groups while we continue to ensure continuous capacity building for our staff for them to understand the dynamics of and trends in telecoms regulations and engage in excellent recruitment processes to get the best expertise for the regulations of industry.

Conclusion

Suffice it to say that since 2015, the leadership of NCC has, despite daunting challenges in the industry, brought forth sound regulatory experience in piloting the affairs of the industry with such a finesse, ingenuity, regulatory excellence and passion. Indeed, the last four years has helped the regulator to consolidate on the growth recorded by his predecessors through effective development and driving of initiatives needed to leapfrog the nation into a fully digital economy. However, there are high expectations that, given the solid foundation already laid in the last four years, consolidating on gains already recorded in the industry, the NCC is poised to achieve more for the overall achievement of digital transformation in the country.