Engr. Lanre Ajayi is the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) which is a professional, non-profit, non-political umbrella organization of telecommunications companies of Nigeria inaugurated on December 10, 1993. He spoke with Tony Nwakaegho in an interview during the recent stakeholder forum on spectrum held in Lagos. Excerpts:
What are your impressions of the NCC research process and stakeholders’ forum on 70/80GHZ Band?
It’s a good thing for the regulator to seek the input of the stakeholders before coming up with a regulation. We consider it a privilege; we appreciate it and simply hope that whatever input that has been gathered at this event be put into consideration before the regulation is passed. From all indications a couple of operators were consulted before the general consultation, which I consider a great thing. It is always nice to have a basis to call for public consultation, so the earlier the better for people that were consulted were given some points which could be discussed before a general plenary like this. I think the process is good to have specific consultation and a general consultation.
What is your assessment of the NCC in terms of regulation?
Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has been doing a good job in terms of regulating the industry. They’ve been able to balance the requirements of the operators with that of the consumers to a large extent. But just like in every other thing there’s always room for improvement. There are areas where they certainly can improve. We have noticed a great deal of consultation when it comes to issues of spectrum but in other areas of regulation we only hope that wider of consultation can also take place. NCC must be commended for its excellent regulatory role which has put the Nigerian telecoms sector on the world map.
Briefly let us into your projection for the ICT industry going forward.
The industry has been a great contributor to the Nigerian economy; contributes more than 100 per cent to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that’s a big one if you compare it to some other sectors of the economy. And with the right regulatory policy and political environment we can see a continued growth and greater contribution of the industry to the national economy.
What is your take on light licensing model?
NCC has indicated it as an option but I would have preferred light licensing without a fee. In the sense that we still need to know who is operating from where; we still have to keep track of who’s using what frequency and at what location and then you’re given approval before you proceed. But it does not necessarily have to attract fees. If there are countries that are not collecting fees according to the presentation we got, then why do we think we have to collect money? The issue of fees becomes important when demand outstrips supply and you’re looking for a way of apportioning resources to someone who will use it most effectively then you can use fee as a factor when the issue of spectrum will come in. But this is a spectrum that we most usually have demand less than supply, so why applying fee? We need to encourage innovation and lower tariff by giving operators opportunities to have lower cost. Except it becomes important to use fee to determine who is serious about operation then I don’t see the need for a fee. The licensing operation will commence soon. Before now there are other frequencies and people have been doing microwave deployment. This is just an opportunity to do more. Even for broadband they have been deploying other spectrum this is just an additional spectrum that is being released.
What conditions need to be met before Nigeria could meet global standard in terms of broadband deployment?
For Nigeria to meet up with global standard, broadband must become ubiquitous with the necessary environment created for operators to deploy the broadband facilities. The required spectrum including the suspended 2.6GHz and the 700MHz auctions must be completed while conductive environment with stable power supply; reduction in taxation, vandalism; appropriate Right of Way (RoW) among others would help to expand the broadband reach across the country. The association has gone a long way in advocating for wide deployment of broadband through various fora, that government should create the enabling environment that would foster speedy penetration to the remotest part of the country and also making it affordable.
The clamour for local content in the ICT sector has not taken root like what is being experienced in the oil and gas sector. What is the way forward?
The local companies in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector should gear up efforts towards adding value to telecom hardware products that are being imported into the country and by so doing, would ensure their growth and be more competitive in the industry and globally. What value are we adding to products imported when more things are being done in this country and the situation should be on how to make a difference? Also, some of these equipments can be manufactured locally, and this is what would drive the local content policy being clamoured for by stakeholders in the sector.
What is your view on the refusal of telecom companies to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange?
It was a good idea for such companies to be listed Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) as such step would make more people part owners of the firms and mutually beneficial to both the existing investors and the Nigerian people. When you own a company, no matter how tiny the part of the company you own, you feel a sense of protection for that company. So, when more Nigerians begin to own the companies, they will be tempted to protect those companies. Maybe it may even impact more in the area of infrastructure protection. If you have a share in one Telecoms Company and you notice vandals destroying the property of that company, chances are that you will be more inclined to intervene. However, Telecoms companies should not be forced to get listed on the NSE, but be allowed to do so voluntarily for the benefit of the companies and their operating environment. NSE listing of telecoms companies would help to save their infrastructure in the country.
What has ATCON done so far to develop the industry?
The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) has been making efforts to ensure that Nigeria becomes the preferred country of choice for Africa investment destination, aimed at driving technology development in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. ATCON’s efforts are in line with that of the federal government that is making conscious efforts to woo foreign investors to Nigerian to invest in broadband development and penetration.