Amidst uncertainties created by recent government policies on SIM registration, Nigeria’s telecoms regulator has said it will this year forge ahead with dynamic regulatory measures to consolidate on the industry’s growth and give subscribers a better experience. SAMSON AKINTARO, in this report, looks at some of the key focus areas
Despite the economic turmoil occasioned by the outbreak of COVID- 19, Nigeria’s telecommunications sector shone brighter last year. With increased mobile subscriptions and broadband penetration, the sector was able to increase its contributions to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), thus becoming fully recognised as one of the major driving forces of the economy. To consolidate on these gains, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has highlighted the key areas that will form the fulcrum of its regulatory activities this year, and through which it intends to positively impact the telecoms industry, especially in terms of improved service experiences for the holders of the over 207 million active mobile lines in the country. Accordingly, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, has provided insights into the various regulatory activities to be embarked upon by the commission this year with a view to consolidating the modest achievements of the past five years by focusing on broadband penetration, consumer protection, and empowerment, efficient resource utilisation, and facilitation of fibre infrastructure deployment this year.
New vision plan
As a Federal Government agency that believes in effective planning to achieve results and evidence-based regulatory activities to accelerate industry growth, the commission is already putting in place robust and strategic planning that will further transform the telecoms ecosystem in 2021. Directly tied to achieving its auspicious regulatory targets in 2021 is the plan by the commission to unveil a new five-year strategic vision plan (SVP) that will provide an effective framework for the implementation of an already unveiled Strategy Management Plan (SMP) 2020- 2024 by the commission. Upon the expiration of NCC’s initial plan anchored on an 8-Point Agenda, the diligent implementation of which has helped the commission to increase service availability, accessibility, and affordability, the NCC management led by Prof.Danbatta has initiated the process for the development of another five years SVP. Already, the development of the new five-year agenda has reached an advanced stage is bound to be unveiled soon. According to Danbatta, the impending SVP will naturally ride on the new Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024 unveiled in June last year. As a visioning document of the commission for planning, monitoring, analysing, and assessment of the commission to meet its goals and set objectives, Danbatta said the proposed SVP and current SMP will be fully leveraged by the NCC management for serious improvement in performance matrix and its efforts in accelerating the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) and the National Broadband Plan (NBP) 2020 – 2025 of the Federal Government. It would be recalled that a very important indicator of the effective implementation of the expired SVP by the NCC was its efforts in achieving and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration set by the Federal Government by 2018, up from about six per cent in 2015, among others. Today, broadband penetration has reached 45.07 per cent as of November 2020, translating to over 86 million broadband subscriptions across 3G and 4G networks in the country.
Last year, the commission constituted a committee to review the framework for the licensing of infrastructure companies (InfraCo) and recommend sustainable funding options for effective implementation of the proposed national fibre project, taking into consideration the delays in take-off, change in the exchange rate, supply chain and other challenges imposed by COVID- 19. The result of this effort is expected to produce a more robust InfraCo framework that will facilitate the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the nooks and crannies of the country, thereby enhancing broadband penetration towards achieving the 70 per cent penetration target by 2025, increased connectivity, and better user experience in 2021 and beyond. According to Danbatta, “the InfraCo project is dear to the government because of its ability to enhance robust and pervasive broadband infrastructure to drive service availability, accessibility and affordability and we hope, with the cooperation we are getting from the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, will record more inroads in 2021 and beyond with respect to our reviewed InfraCo framework.” The EVC had, in October 2020, restated the commitment of the commission in ensuring that the project delivers maximum benefits for the economy at large, adding that the effective implementation of the InfraCo project and deployment of fifthgeneration (5G) technology, once the Federal Government gives the approval for deployment, will support the increased connectivity being witnessed in the country and revolutionise the country’s digital ecosystem.
Another area of NCC’s regulatory focus that will receive increased attention, as usual, this year, according to Danbatta, is in the issue of consumer protection and empowerment. Over the years, the commission has created multiple channels through which it educates the consumers on their rights and privileges, as well as ensures appreciable protection for telecom consumers from unwholesome practices by telecoms licensees and cybercriminals. So far, the commission has contributed immensely to the growth of the Nigerian economy by ensuring robust telecom infrastructure, making it possible for Nigerians to leverage the Internet and, most especially, the social media and other digital platforms to run their daily activities as well as ventilate their views against corrupt practices in order to ensure good governance in the country. Consequently, with the projected increase in the number of individuals, businesses, and government institutions relying on broadband infrastructures in keeping themselves connected for personal and official communication activities within the context of the ongoing measures at containing COVID-19 and social distancing, the EVC said the NCC is committed to consumer-centric initiatives that promote digital inclusion and advance the digital economy vision of the government in 2021.
Against the backdrop of its being ranked highest in terms of compliance to ethics and integrity by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) last year among other sister agencies within and outside the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the NCC said in 2021, it is poised and more committed to regulatory excellence, transparency, and ethical standards. The inauguration of the NCC’s Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) by ICT on December 10, 2020, in Abuja will, therefore, more incrementally, position the NCC to continually identify corruption- prone processes, practices, and procedures within the system with a view to institutionalising compliant and corruption-free processes. In 2021, the NCC’s efforts will be directed at the prevention of corruption through defined standard operating procedures and adherence to public service rules, circulars, guidelines, among others.
As an independent regulatory agency, the NCC said it will this year continue to prioritise regulatory activities in the area of raising the bar of quality of service (QoS) across the networks, advancing its regulatory trial of national roaming and e-SIM, finalising the development of a Regulatory Framework on Virtual Mobile Network Operators (VMNO), increasing stakeholder collaboration with more regulatory agencies and other private and public institutions that are needed to support the commission’s efforts at deepening connectivity at affordability rates and improved user experiences across the nooks and crannies of the country. With this, telecoms would continue to play an even more significant role in the transformation of the nation into a more truly digital economy.
While the Federal Government’s directives on SIM registration have put many subscribers on edge as the possibility of losing their lines stare them in the face, all eyes will be on the NCC, as a consumercentric regulator, to continue to safeguard the interest of the subscribers as it has always done. Implementing all its outlined agenda for this year will, no doubt, greatly benefit the millions of subscribers and the nation’s economy at large.