NCC’s Eight-point agenda: All eyes on Dambatta

By Sunny Igboanugo on 19/02/2016

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When a whopping N1.4trillion fine was slammed on Nigeria’s prime telecommunications service provider, MTN, in October last year, the effect was like a thunderbolt, not only to the victim, but to many Nigerians. Reason: Neither the company, nor Nigerians would have believed it was possible. Before then, it would have been a case of, at the worst, a tap on the wrist, despite the magnitude of the offence the company was said to have committed, in this case, conducting its business in a manner that posed a security threat to Nigeria, by its failure to properly carry out the registration exercise ordered by the Nigerian government in the face of pervading terrorist activities in the country.

So, that the company must have been practically jolted, ought to be the natural reaction. That the public, especially the Nigerian consumers, was equally jolted, even pleasantly, ought to also be natural. For the first time, it proved that the telecommunication operators, that had given them the short end of the stick these past decades, are not untouchable deities, after all.

That was how Professor Umar Garba Dambatta, not only announced his entry on the scene, but practically stamped a declaration that it would no longer be business as usual with him at the helm of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the agency, which had over the years perceivably elected to take sides with those it was supposed to put in check.



Whatever the outcome, now that everything has come into the mix, including diplomatic rapprochement and even legal battle, that far-reaching outing, conduces a loud enough statement on the operations of the sector, as far as regulation is concerned.

It is against this backdrop that the eight-point agenda the new Executive Vice Chairman (EVM), of the NCC unfolded on Friday, February 12, can now be situated. The document, which came to the fore at a media interaction with the apparatchik of the commission, led by Dambatta, who was appointed into office in August, by President Muhammadu Buhari, was loaded with such mouth-watering provisions that could make stakeholders in the telecommunications industry, especially the consumers, go home and slumber away in the belief that the good times are around the corner.

To be implemented over a five-year period, it includes facilitating broadband penetration, which entails providing and optimising access to and use of affordable fixed and mobile broadband in all parts of the country, improving quality of service, through the promotion of the availability of reliable interoperable rapidity, and provision of critical information and communication technology infrastructure that are supportive of all required services.

On the package are also the optimisation of the usage and benefit of spectrum, through which the commission would aim at maximising the availability of spectrum in order to provide diverse and affordable ICT services and ensure spectrum acquisition does not distort market competition, promotion of ICT innovations and investment opportunities, by raising the nation’s capacity to compete in the global economy through increased investment in youth and promotion of SMEs for the delivery of new business breakthroughs.

The agenda also aims at facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership, by getting stakeholders to foster ICT for sustainable economic development and social advancement, protecting and empowering consumers, by shielding them from unfair practices through availability of information and education required to make informed choices in the use of ICT services.     

It also wants to promote fair competition and inclusive growth, by ensuring a competitive market for communications services that foster fair inclusion of all actors in innovative ways that facilitate new investments, job creation and consumer satisfaction, as well as ensuring regulatory excellence and operational efficiency, by sticking to its effective regulatory framework, efficient processes, strict compliance monitoring and enforcement, efficient management of internal resources and structures and commitment to transparency.         

Though some of the contents sound quite abstract, especially to the non-initiates in the industry, what remains quite germane and critical is the aspect, which Nigerians confront and contend with daily – quality and cost of services.

Expectedly, both resonated at the event. Of course, Dambatta had ready answers. To the issues of drop calls and unsolicited text messages, he assured that measures were being taken to get the service providers not only upgraded their facilities to ensure the elimination of drop calls, but ensure adequate compensations were paid where it occurred, whist also creating platforms for the consumers to make a choice as to the type of message they would want to receive.

Emphasising the issue of consumer protection, the NCC boss stated that it was so critical that it was specifically provided in the act setting up the commission and therefore, he had on many occasions, personally intervened to ensure that no consumer was cheated at any point unsatisfactory transaction was reported through its various platforms for lodging complaints.

But the aspect that would ostensibly heat up the blood of many Nigerians is the prospect of making some of the telecoms services free, which Dambatta said was not impossible, given the global trend, which the commission was striving to key into.

Hear him: “Going by what is happening in the global telecommunications arena, and if our experiences in data services is anything to go by; nowadays, people pay virtually nothing using the WhatsApp application. All of a sudden, the scenario that is gradually unfolding is that very soon, voice services may be free in the foreseeable future. Emphasis is now being shifted to data services.

“Now, the whole eight-point agenda is to ensure at least that internet services are affordable. That is the first step and that is why we hinge our eight-point agenda on making sure that services are available, and where they are available, they are accessible and where they are accessible, they are affordable. These are the three ‘As’ that guide our eight-point agenda. I hope the time will come when access to the internet will not only be affordable, it will be free.

“This will depend on a number of factors. One is telecommunications infrastructure in this country, which is still at a formative stage. To be honest with you, the telecommunications infrastructure in this country is inadequate to cater for the capacity that is needed. We are trying to encourage operators, especially telecommunications operators that want to come into this sector to provide more infrastructure. We are encouraging them to join the market.

“NCC even provides incentives to them to encourage their entrance into the infrastructure market. Such is the urgent need for telecommunications infrastructure in this country that the NCC sets aside a certain amount of money to give to infrastructure companies in order to assist them deploy broadband infrastructure, which will ultimately facilitate the provision of not only cheap internet services, but very fast internet services.”

No doubt that these may be tall dreams. But if the trajectory so far, has seen the usage of telephones transcend from the exclusive preserve of the super-rich in the society to that where even the commonest man now own and enjoy it effortlessly, then it may not be forlorn to hope that this may also come to pass.

What is required is forthrightness to hold on to true ideals and the steadfastness to walk the talk.

Interestingly, the advent of mobile telephones, is one of the star achievements of the Peoples Democratic Party’s 16-year stint in Nigeria. Now that Dambatta, claims that his agenda is fired by the change mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari – to promote innovation, investment, competition and consumer empowerment in and on top of the communications platforms of today and the future - could the All Progressives Congress (APC) gift be to free Nigerians from the shackles of shylock operators? The answer would certainly come at the fullness of time as Nigerians wait.        



Posted on February, 19 2016

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