Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy

How Nigeria will protect interests of all telecom/ICT stakeholders ─Minister

*Protection of rights of citizens, consumers is of utmost priority to government ─Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami

*There’s no room for multiple illegal taxation on Right of Way

*Review of Infraco framework on underutilisation of submarine broadband, landing capacity underway, says Prof. Umar Danbatta, NCC EVC/CEO

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

In line with the strategic importance of addressing the needs of telecoms and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) stakeholders and consumers’ in the era of Coronavirus and post-COVID-19 pandemic cum digital economy period in Nigeria, the Federal Government has assured that it will  continue to protect the interests of all the stakeholders in the sector of the economy.

ConsumerConnect reports Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, stated this Thursday, August 6, 2020, in a virtual forum with the theme: “Meeting the Interests of Government, Consumers and Telecom & ICT Companies in the Era of COVID-19 and Post COVID-19 Pandemic for Digital Economy Development”.

The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) organised the well-attended forum with the objective of deliberating on the Telecoms/ICT industry issues with a view to achieving the new broadband target of 70 percent penetration in the country.

Dr. Pantami, in his keynote address while highlighting his Ministry’s policy directions in the current administration, said that the interests of all, including the regulator, sectoral operators and consumers would be protected within the communications space.

The Minister disclosed that the government’s interests are the same as consumers’, and the regulatory authorities would continue to make concerted efforts at ensuring that the masses are protected.

He said: “Protection of the rights of citizens and consumers is of utmost priority to the government especially those who are struggling and on the last rung of the ladder.”

Pantami stressed that the Nigerian Government has initiated measures towards  addressing issues of reduction in the price of Right of Way (RoW) for telecom and ICT firms, multiple illegal taxation, and indigenous content policy in which local experts are given priority in contracting and procurement.

While decrying multiple taxation on the RoW, the Minister opined that such multiple taxes are barriers to broadband penetration in respect of voice, data, protection of investors’ critical infrastructure, and other services in Nigeria.

“There is no room for multiple illegal taxation,” he said.

He emphasised that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has had an agreement with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) regarding striking uniformity in the price of Right of Way, as he advised the ATCON members to notify the Ministry if they are having challenges with any state government.

Pantami also assured the forum participants, including regulators, operators and consumer groups, that a fresh policy direction based on President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Orders 003 and 005 is currently receiving the President’s attention, and that it would be ready soon.

Dr. Pantami, therefore, urged ATCON members to address their quality of service (QoS) as most consumers are complaining of poor quality of service, seeking reduction in the price of data, enhanced penetration of broadband, and fairness to all consumers.

According to him, “in the Ministry, we always try to strike a balance by protecting the interest of consumers and citizens on the one hand, and the telecom companies on the other.”

Prof. Umar Danbatta, Executive Vice-Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in his presentation on the occasion, disclosed that the Commission has been trying to solve the challenges confronting the members of ATCON.

Prof. Umar Danbatta, Executive Vice-Chairman/CEO of NCC

According to Prof. Danbatta, the Commission has tried to settle disputes between telecom stakeholders on the one hand, and resolve the issue of the Right of Way on the other hand.

The NCC EVC, who acknowledged that impacts of COVID 19 have affected the whole economy, and there is a need to utilise the power of Information Technology, said in the ICT ecosystem, infrastructure is the key.

The NCC is striving very hard to meet up especially in the area of broadband deployment across the country.

On the issue of underutilisation of submarine broadband and landing capacity, the EVC/CEO of NCC stated that the Commission is in the process of reviewing the Infraco framework as mandated by the National Bureau for Privatisation (NBP).

He said that with regard to spectrum utilisation, especially 800MHz CDA, 1800MHz for LTE and Spectrum auctioning, the NCC is in the process of issuing last-mile satellite operators’ licences to provide broadband services.

In his address in the virtual forum on Telecoms/ICT, Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi

Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), stressed the importance of ICT as a major player in the global effort at returning to the new normal.

The NITDA Director-General stated that COVID-19 has triggered an unprecedented paradigm shift in the way of life and only ICT sector can accelerate the development of Digital Economy.

He said: “The new trend has stimulated a surge in demand for digital services and is putting tremendous pressure on the existing ICT and Telco infrastructure.

“There is a need for government’s intervention and regulatory instruments to help you – the sector players come out from this pandemic stronger than when you entered.”

According to him, broadband infrastructure remains the most critical infrastructure the nation needs to wither the storm of the pandemic.

The connectivity drive of the government has made Nigeria a mobile-first market, with almost three-quarters of about 100m internet users consuming digital services using smartphones, said he.

In regard to the impact of broadband penetration in Nigeria, Malam Abdullahi noted that part of government’s efforts include reassigning of the Ministry’s mandates to accommodate the digital economy plan, National broadband policy and Nigerian Digital Economy Strategic Plans had within eight months increased the broadband penetration from 32 percent to almost 42 percent.

According to him, the current leadership at the agency is focusing on other initiatives that provide the skeleton and flesh of the digital economy, while broadband provides the backbone infrastructure for the digital economy to thrive.

Abdullahi outlined some of the NITDA initiatives to complement the government’s broadband efforts to include the developmental regulations; digital literacy and skills; solid infrastructure; service infrastructure; digital service development and promotion; indigenous content development and promotion among others.

Earlier in his welcome address on the occasion, Mr. Olusola Teniola, President of ATCON, took the opportunity to appreciate Dr. Pantami, whom he said had been “working assiduously to change the narrative of Nigeria through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

Mr. Olusola Teniola, President of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria

He stated: “As we all know, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy commissioned a number of projects that have reflected the dividend of sustainable development programme of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.”

The ATCON President recalled that Nigeria’s telecom sector has witnessed several important developments.

According to him, such positive developments include the fact that President Buhari, on October 23, 2019, renamed the ministry which supervises the Telecoms and ICT Sector to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy while further expanding its mandate to capture the goals of digitalisation of the Nigerian economy in line with the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP).

Others are the recently launched National Broadband Plan 2020 to 2025, the unveiling of a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), and the constitution of Implementation and Steering Committee for the plan.

“All these would empower Nigerians (consumers) to take advantage of the Nigerian digital economy,” said Teniola.

He added that interdependence and collaboration among the government, telecom and ICT Companies and Nigerians are clearly necessary, but each of separate stakeholders has limitations and potential.

“Hence, the forum is expected to make an attempt to address the challenges and turn them into advantage for the development of our Telecom and ICT Sector in the era of COVID-19 and post COVID-19 pandemic” in the country.

“ATCON is providing this veritable platform for Governments, Consumers (corporate and personal) and Telecommunications and ICT Companies to rub minds on how consumers can be better off in terms of effective delivery of telecom and ICT services and products in Nigeria, to attract further investment into the sector through consumerism and enactment of friendly policies and regulation by the Government,” he said.

He also acknowledged the support of industry stakeholders, including the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, NCC, NITDA, IHS, VDT Communications, IpNX Limited, Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA), PPC Limited, Galaxy Backbone, MainOne, Pan African Towers Limited, Medallion Communications, NIGCOMSAT and Layer3 Limited.

Additional reporting by Isola Moses

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