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Loan: We’ll ensure that Etisalat’s 23million subscribers do not suffer – NCC boss

In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta says all the…

In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta says all the telecoms operators in the country performed below the expected mark in terms of quality of service in the last quarter of 2016. He also reveals the commission’s stand on the Etisalat loan issue.

The NCC met with all the telecom operators. What happened?

All the mobile operators were here because we have identified degeneration in the quality of service. Before the consumers were the ones complaining about the quality of service and the complaints were anecdotal. But you know, for the first time, there is convergence between what the consumers are saying with regards to poor quality of service as well as measurement we have scientifically conducted and which conclusively indicated a worsening quality of service situation. So we were ready to share these facts with the operators. Because as a scientist and I am an engineer by training, you do not just say quality of service has dropped, you have to provide facts that will back the statement.

So we did a power-point presentation to all the major operators, including all infrastructure sharing service providers, so that they can be able to see all the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that we have measured on state by state basis and, therefore, extended to show the level of consumers experience at the national level. This is something that has never been done before. These KPIs are particular in respect of call-drop rate. And this is an important parameter because it says out of 100 calls, only one should be dropped. So the standard is 1%. And we have almost all the operators not meeting the standard in quite a number of locations, especially Lagos, Abuja and in the number of states in the South-West and South-South in the months of October, November and December last year. We have the data for the three months. So the whole essence is for the operators to see for themselves because these data were extracted from submissions by the operators to the NCC which we analyse and concluded that KPI, in terms of drop-call, has not been met.

So, at the end of the day, the major operators agreed, but they said they had challenges and they highlighted their challenges: fibre cut, community issues, Right of Way (RoW), multiple taxes, forex issue, vandalization of existing infrastructure by hoodlums, indiscriminate seal of base transmitter stations, etc. They said all these are preventing them from having necessary infrastructure to boost capacity in terms of coverage.

We also highlighted all the efforts we are making to help them solve some of these challenges and we demanded that quality of service must improve. In fact, we read the riot act to them that the QoS (Quality of Service) is at the moment is not acceptable, not to the consumers and not to the NCC whose major mandate is to protect and empower the consumers. And this is consistent with the sixth item of our 8-point agenda. And the second item of that agenda is on improving quality of service. So we have not done anything outside what we said we are going to do when we unveiled this agenda in 2016.

So we are taking off with the mandates of our agenda, we are no theorising. The days of talking about the agenda in theoretical term are over. We are implementing our agenda now of which revolve around protection and empower of the consumers.

Do you see any positive change in QoS in the nearest future?

Well, we are going to monitor the quality of service again. Those set KPIs would be used again. The most important is the drop-call ratio; that is what Nigerians are conversant with. We are currently doing that of January, February and March. We are going to wait until the technical department finishes analysing the data for the first quarter 2017.  So when they complete the compilation and analysis we will compare it with last quarter in 2016 to see if there is any improvement or further degeneration. I will not say anything now until the conclusion of the analysis. But we know what to do after the conclusion.

Some of the operators said they have challenge sourcing forex…

I have told you about these challenges. We have told them what we have done to address the forex issue. It is true that the telecom sector does not have access to forex. But look at the argument; a very good and convincing argument anybody who care to listen will know that despite these challenges this sector is still the best. This sector at the fourth quarter of 2016 contributed 10.75% to the GDP up by almost 2% from the result of the third quarter of 2016. In monetary term, the sector contributed N1.4trn in the third quarter of 2016. And it contributed N1.6trn in the last quarter of 2016.                 

When you look at the contribution over the entire 2016, the contribution per quarter is never less than N1.4trn. It is a sector that has indeed shown a remarkable resilience and, therefore, deserving a very government attention. If there is a sector that is performing the way the telecom sector is doing then government attention should be on that sector in order to ensure it keeps on improving on the good performance. Even in the midst of economic challenges we in the telecom sector should be given the priority in terms of forex allocation and availability. If government can give priority to the sector, the operators would be very happy that this would facilitate for them the importation of equipment to build their infrastructure that is needed to be deployed in order to roll out more and more services; infrastructure that will facilitate access to solar energy to overcome the problem of electricity supply.

Let me also advise the operators that if we have challenges getting diesel we can look towards alternative energy sources like solar. We have been telling them to change their business model to embrace alternative source of energy to reduce their reliance on these conventional sources of energy system. In many countries of the world, the paradigm is shifting to alternative source of energy, especially where there are challenges of electricity supply. They have challenges also of Right of Way, we know this.

The Right of Way is a natural resource; it belongs to the federal government. But we are in a situation where the state governments are making telcos to pay for Right of Ways – charges that are prohibitive, that are not consistent with provision of the document in existence approved by the FG to be used for charges of RoW for ICT infrasctructure in the country.

You have met with the Governors Forum. What was the highpoint of your discussion?

Yes, but you know in Nigeria you have to be patient. As a CEO of any agency of government you have to be a diplomat and this is yielding fruits. I will give you examples: there was a case of sealing of some base stations in Ogun. We met with the government and we were able to plead for the unsealing of about 47 base stations sealed in that state. And we also pleaded that the charges slammed on the telcos be reduced and the governor agreed to reduce it from N300m to a third of that amount. So we are not just sitting here in an air-conditioned office, approving payment of salaries and signing contracts; we are also go out into the field with handkerchief ready in our hands to wipe away sweat.

 Etisalat is having issue with some banks over a loan it took from them. How is NCC intervening?

We are in touch with Etisalat. I don’t want to give any official statement on this. We are trying to do all we can do within our powers to ensure that about 23m subscribers on the Etisalat network do not suffer any inconveniences as a result of the loan issue.  That will include engaging with Etisalat to know how far it has gone and what the present state of the matter is. And we then look at what the commission can do to bring about the solution to all the contentious issues. We are here also to mediate between the legal entities within the industry, we can also mediate between legal entities and the sector and other sectors of the economy. Our mediatory roles extend beyond the telecom sector. And we are bringing these mediatory roles to bear effectively in finding solution to the Etisalat issue.               

When the right time comes, we will make official statement on the issue.  Most of what we are doing now we don’t want to make it public now.