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 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.
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.
Flip to June 2020, Danbatta has been reappointed by Mr. President for another five-year term in Office. The reappointment actually came two months plus to the expiration of Danbatta’s first term in office which is a testament to astute dedication to work and professionalism while manning his job as the umpire of the telecoms industry.
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.
It is also important, at this juncture to recognize the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr, Isa Pantami, who recommended Danbatta to continue in his role as the Ministry’s statement indicates. It shows the Danbatta will continue to enjoy the Minister’s support while discharging his duties.
Yes, 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.
The key indicators in Danbatta’s scorecard
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 14.07 percent as at First Quarter, 2020.
Active mobile voice subscribers increased from 151,018,624 in 2015 to 189,282,796 million as at March 2020 while teledensity increased to 99.65 percent.
Internet subscribers increased from 90 million in 2015 to 135,832,142 by March, 2020 while broadband penetration jumped from 8 percent to its current 39.9 percent, indicating a total of 76,163,674 Nigerian access data services on 3G and 4G networks.
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 as at October 2019.
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.
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.
Also worthy of note is the recent moves by the Federal Government to ensure the protection of telecommunications infrastructure and the resolve by State Governors to harmonise Right of Way Charges. These moves, Danbatta said are critical steps towards the roll out of services by the .
TechEconomy.ng understands that the 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.
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 target of the NBP 2013-2020, 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.
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.
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, making Nigeria the first in West Africa to conduct such trial. This is one of the remarkable achievements of Danbatta led NCC as 5G is now critical technology of the future.
This is also why the issue of the Right of Way must be resolved now – even as 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, is commendable.
Today, NCC is working towards ensuring 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, at least, 80 per cent of the Nigerian population over the current 56.4 per cent of the population covered with 3G networks.
Growth in Telecom Investment
Four years plus 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.
Restructuring the telecom VAS Segment to Create Jobs, Improve Innovation
This is one big challenge that NCC has wrestled. In the last five 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.
Improving Consumer Protection, Empowerment
Well, more profound in the agenda of the Commission is its Item 6 which consumer protection and empowerment. The Commission has vigorously pursued the agenda to protect and empower 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 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.
NCC demonstrated the care for consumers during the peak period of COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission dedicated its Emergency Communications Centre (ECC), about 17 of them, towards assisting Nigerians reach out to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and vice versa.
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.
Boosting Quality of Service, Investors’ Confidence
In keeping with its continuous commitment towards ensuring that telecoms operators deliver consistently improved QoS to their 189 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2020 announced plans to build six ICT Parks to promote socio-economic transformation of Nigeria.
The ICT Parks are to provide Innovation Labs and Digital Fabrication Laboratories (Fablabs) for use by ICT innovators and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into products and prototypes; provide a Commercial Hub for ICT capacity building and digital skills; create employment and entrepreneurial activities; and facilitate smart city deployment across the Digital Industrial complex.
Danbatta has done well since assumption of office 2015. The Commission 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. We believe that Danbatta will view his reappointment as a collective call on him by Nigerians to further impact the economy through regulatory excellence in the telecoms industry. He must not relent in engaging with industry stakeholders in finding lasting solutions to pending issues in the industry.
Congratulations, Prof. Danbatta.