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Why NATCOMS Endorses 800MHz Spectrum Transfer To MTN



The National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS) has endorsed the proposed transfer of licence and resources, including 800MHz Spectrum from Visafone Communications Limited to MTN Nigeria Communication Limited.

The associaiton said the transfer was a step in the right direction even as it expressed optimism that it will engender effective use of the spetrum.

This was contained in a letter signed by the association’s national president, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, with the title ‘A submission on public enquiry on transfer of licence and resources including 800mhz Spectrum from Visafone Communications Limited to MTN Communications Limited’ submitted to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

A copy of the letter obtained by LEADERSHIP noted that precedence showed that the commission had approved similar acquisitions in the past, urging the commission to promote fair play and provide a level playing ground by approving same.

It read in part: “From a precedent perspective, there has been at least two previous similar transactions – in 2007, Visafone Communications Limited acquired the licenses and frequency spectrum of independent Telephone Networks Limited, Bourdex Telecommunications Limited and Cellcom Limited, and commission duly approved the three acquisition transactions.

“Visafone then consolidated the assets and went on to roll out the largest CDMA network in Nigeria. Also in 2010, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Limited (then trading as Etisalat and now 9 Mobile) acquired the 2100 MHZ frequency spectrum that had been assigned to Alheri Mobile Limited and proceeded to deploy same to provide 3G services. Again, the NCC approved these transactions.

“For consistency and the precedent that has been set and affirmed by the industry regulator NCC, the NCC should assent to the transfer of Visafone assets to MTN in order not to be seen as not setting a ”level playing field” and standards of predictability on matters relating to acquisitions in the industry.”

It noted that the recently introduced spectrum trading policy adequately address the issue of fears of monopolization of frequency spectrum by one major operator as any operator desiring frequency spectrum can go to another to lease spectrum on a commercial basis.

“It is common knowledge that there are a number of operators who have adequate spectrum for lease. So, frequency spectrum going forward will be readily available for any operator that desires same, and fears around monopolization of spectrum will therefore not be an encumbrance,” it stated.

The letter said NATCOMS’ position was that telecommunications subscribers wanted good and qualitative telecommunications products and services, and only an operator that is willing to invest to support optimal deployment of the Visafone assets of 800MHz would be able to provide new and sustained services for the telecommunications subscribers. 

“In conclusion, NATCOMS submission is that the Nigerian Communications Commission should approve the transfer of the assets of Visafone, that is, its licence and 800MHz spectrum to MTN for the deployment of services which is in the interest of the Nigerian telecommunications industry in general and the telecommunications subscribers in particular,” it added.

Recall that mobile network operators, 9Mobile and Airtel Nigeria strongly opposed the proposed transfer during the public inquiry held in Abuja, insisting that transferring 800MHz to MTN would not result in a level playing field for other operators.

The 9mobile head of regulatory affairs, Chidozie Arinze, emphasized that transferring the spectrum to MTN was giving them undue advantage over other operators, stressing that the move was not in the interest of telecom consumers and the Nigerian economy.

Arinze described such acquisition as antagonistic, even as he urged the telecom regulator to borrow a leaf from other developed nations by placing a restriction to the amount of spectrum a telecom operator was allowed to buy.

He said: “In the UK, the regulator placed limitations on the amount of spectrum that an operator could buy. So, controlling the amount of spectrum that an operator can buy is a worldwide phenomenon. It is not tied to the Nigerian market.”

Meanwhile, the MTN senior manager, regulatory affairs, corporate relations, Johnson Oyewo, highlighted that access to spectrum itself was not an offence, stressing that what MTN had done was to explore the opportunity that was available to get access to the spectrum, even as he urged other operators to come up with ideas that would promote telecommunication in the interest of the nation and its consumers.

Earlier, the executive vice chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, stated that the public inquiry would lead to an informed decision consistent with the commission’s mandate to create an enabling environment for effective competition in the industry as well to ensure the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country.

“In line with the spirit of participatory regulation and strategic objective of the commission to hold regular consultation with the industry stakeholders which include operators, consumers, academia etc, the commission has decided to hold a public inquiry to elicit inputs and comments from stakeholders to enable us draw important and beneficial contributions from your wealth of field experience and research,” he added.