BY CHIMA AKWAJA, Lagos
As the year 2021 kicks off, the Nigerian telecommunications sector which was not immune to economic headwinds occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, is geared for growth according to feelers from industry practitioners. The industry regulatory, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), say some key areas that will form the fulcrum of its regulatory activities this year will ensure improved service experiences for Nigeria’s over 208 million active mobile lines in the country.
Resolving NIN/SIM Challenges
However, there are fears that if the ongoing national identity number (NIN)/subscriber identification module (SIM) registration and verification is not properly handled, it may impact on the grains recorded over the years.
Already, telecom operators under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) have started to appeal to subscribers experiencing difficulties, saying it was working with National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to ensure seamless system connectivity for verification of NINs.
The chairman of ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo said their members empathizes with people who have been unable to reactivate their phone lines as a result of the suspension.
“We, therefore, seek the continued patience and understanding of our esteemed subscribers as we work with all stakeholders towards speedily resolution of issues affecting SIM Registration/Swap and activation. We assure you of restoring normal services in a seamless and effective manner as soon as possible,” he stated.
The executive vice chairman (EVC), Prof Umar Danbatta, in providing insights into the various regulatory activities to be embarked upon by the Commission this year, said they will consolidate the modest achievements of the past five years by focusing on broadband penetration, consumer protection and empowerment, efficient resource utilisation, and facilitation of fibre infrastructure deployment this year.
As a federal government’s organisation that believes in effective planning to achieve results and evidence-based regulatory activities to accelerate industry growth, the Commission is already putting in place robust and strategic planning that will further transform the telecoms ecosystem in 2021.
New Strategic Vision Plan
Directly tied to achieving its auspicious regulatory targets in 2021 is the plan by the Commission to unveil a new five-year strategic vision plan (SVP) that will provide affective framework for the implementation of an already unveiled Strategy Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024.
According to Danbatta, the impending SVP will naturally ride on the new Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024 unveiled in June last year. As a visioning document of the Commission for planning, monitoring, analysing and assessment of the Commission to meet its goals and set objectives, proposed SVP and current SMP will be fully leveraged by the NCC management for serious improvement in performance matrix and its efforts in accelerating the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) and the National Broadband Plan (NBP) 2020 – 2025 of the federal government.
70% Broadband Penetration
It would be recalled that a very important indicator of the effective implementation of the expired SVP by the NCC was its efforts in achieving and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration set by the federal government by 2018, up from about 11 per cent in 2015, among others. Today, broadband penetration has reached 45.07 per cent as of November 2020, translating to over 86 million broadband subscriptions across 3G and 4G networks in the country.
Last year, the Commission constituted a committee to review the framework for the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCo) and recommend sustainable funding options for effective implementation of the proposed national fibre project, taking into consideration the delays in take-off, change in exchange rate, supply chain and other challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The result of this effort is expected to produce a more robust InfraCo framework that will facilitate the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the nooks and crannies of the country, thereby enhancing broadband penetration towards achieving the 70 per cent penetration target of by 2025, increased connectivity and better user experience in 2021 and beyond.
According to Danbatta, “The InfraCo project is dear to the government because of its ability to enhance robust and pervasive broadband infrastructure to drive service availability, accessibility and affordability and we hope, with the cooperation we are getting from the federal government, through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, will record more inroads in 2021 and beyond with respect to our reviewed InfraCo framework.”
The EVC had, in October, 2020, restated the commitment of the Commission in ensuring that the project delivers maximum benefits for the economy at large, adding that the effective implementation of the InfraCo project and deployment of fifth generation (5G) technology, once the federal government gives the approval for deployment, will support the increased connectivity being witnessed in the country and revolutionise the country’s digital ecosystem.
Consumer Protection & Empowerment
Another area of NCC’s regulatory focus that will receive increased attention, as usual, this year, according to Danbatta, is in the issue of consumer protection and empowerment. Over the years, the Commission has created multiple channels through which it educates the consumers on their rights and privileges, as well as ensures appreciable protection for telecom consumers from unwholesome practices by telecoms licensees and cyber criminals.
So far, the Commission has contributed immensely to the growth of the Nigerian economy by ensuring robust telecom infrastructure, making it possible for Nigerians to leverage the Internet and, most especially, the social media and other digital platforms to run their daily activities as well as ventilate their views against corrupt practices in order to ensure good governance in the country.
Consequently, with the projected increase in the number of individuals, businesses and government institutions relying on broadband infrastructures in keeping themselves connected for personal and official communication activities within the context of the ongoing measures at containing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, the EVC said the NCC is committed to consumer-centric initiatives that promotes digital inclusion and advance the digital economy vision of the government in 2021.
Against the backdrop of the being ranked highest in terms of compliance to ethics and integrity by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) last year among other sister agencies within and outside the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the NCC said in 2021, it is poised and more committed to regulatory excellence, transparency and ethical standards.
The further inauguration of the NCC’s Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) by ICT on December 10, 2020 in Abuja, will therefore, more incrementally, position the NCC to continually identify corruption-prone processes, practices and procedures within the system with a view to institutionalising compliant and corruption-free processes. In 2021, the NCC’s efforts will be directed at prevention of corruption through defined standard operating procedures and adherence to public service rules, circulars, and guidelines, among others.
As an independent regulatory agency, the NCC, in 2021, will continue to prioritise regulatory activities in the area of raising the bar of quality of service (QoS) across the networks, advancing its regulatory trial of national roaming and e-SIM, finalising the development of a Regulatory Framework on Virtual Mobile Network Operators (VMNO), increasing stakeholder collaboration with more regulatory agencies and other private and public institutions that are needed to support the Commission’s efforts at deepening connectivity at affordability rates and improved user experiences across the nooks and crannies of the country. With this, the telecoms would continue to play even more significant role in the transformation of nation into a more truly digital economy.