As the year 2021 rolled to an end, we look back at some of the major activities and events of the Nigerian Communications Commission that shaped the telecommunications regulation in the country.
NIN-SIM Linkage Exercise
The federal government had in December 2020 approved the National Identification Number (NIN)-Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) data verification and ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and) and the mobile network operators (MNOs) to ensure speedy implementation.
The government constituted a Technical Implementation Committee under the Ministerial Task Force to report significant progresses in the NIN-SIM linkage exercise. The NIN-SIM linkage exercise is aimed to ensure that of linking the NIN and SIM of Nigerians and legal residents across the country.
At the beginning of January 2021, the NIN-SIM linkage exercise had recorded 47.8 NINs linked to SIMs by mobile operators. As at December 31, 2021, growth in the National Identity Database has reached over 71 million unique NINs, with about 3 to 4 SIMs linked to a NIN with over 14,000 enrolment centres set up across the country.
Meanwhile, the minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) has said the federal government approved a further extension of the deadline for the NIN-SIM data verification to the 31st of March, 2022. This extension would enable the federal government to consolidate the gains of the process and accelerate the enrolment of Nigerians in key areas like the remote areas, diaspora, schools, hospitals, worship centres, and the registration of legal residents.
Collocation and Infrastructure Sharing
To promote fair competition, the NCC released the Guidelines on Collocation and Infrastructure Sharing (C/IS) to encourage and promote infrastructure sharing among its licencees. With it, Access Providers and Access Seekers can negotiate C/IS arrangements, and ensure that the incidence of unnecessary duplication of infrastructure is minimised or completely avoided; protect the environment by reducing the proliferation of infrastructure and facilities installations.
The Guidelines promotes fair competition through equal access being granted to the installations and facilities of operators on mutually agreed terms; ensure that the economic advantages derivable from the sharing of facilities are harnessed for the overall benefit of all telecommunications stakeholders; and minimise capital expenditure on supporting infrastructures and to free more funds for investment in core network equipment.
Bill on National Emergency Number 112
Nigerian Senate in 2021 worked to strengthen the legal status for the country’s National Emergency Number 112, being implemented by the NCC though its Emergency Communication Centres (ECC). The Nationwide Toll-Free Emergency Number (Establishment) Bill, 2021 was sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State.
The emergency number bill would ensure a more effective, uniform and well-coordinated national emergency number 112, when it is finally passed into law, similar to the 999 emergency number in the United Kingdom and 911 in the United States.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Communications, Oluremi Tinubu, said the bill, when passed, will establish the Nationwide Toll-Free Number as a primary emergency number and contact point for all emergency services in Nigeria, thereby harmonizing the various emergency numbers in the country into one uniform number while, at the same time, empowering the NCC to supervise and ensure compliance.
Review of Telecoms License Structure
In 2021, the NCC initiated the process for the review of existing licencing structure in the telecoms industry by inaugurating an in-house standing committee to carry out the task. The review was informed by the wide range of technological advances, convergence of technologies and services which have characterized the global telecoms space over the years, and which impact is increasingly being experienced in Nigeria.
According to the executive vice chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta, the current licence structure was almost 20 years old, hence the need for an urgent review of the existing license pattern to reflect new licencing trends in line with international standards while providing opportunities for improved revenue for government.
Construction of ICT Parks
The NCC embarked on building Information and Communication Technology (ICT) parks across the six-geo political zones of the country. The ICT Park is an initiative of the Professor Danbatta, to provide Innovation Labs and Digital Fabrication Laboratories (Fablabs) for use by ICT innovators and entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into products and prototypes.
The Tier-4 Digital Industrial Complex (DIC) will 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. They are designed to have fast internet service (broadband) and constant power supply.
Prof Danbatta stated that the project was conceived and designed to support the federal government’s ICT-related policies and programmes by facilitating the availability and accessibility of ICT services across the country, promote their usage across all sectors and ultimately address youth unemployment in the country.
He said the parks will support software development, incubation and hardware development. “We also hope to see innovative technologies that will leverage the broadband network, which the Commission is deepening in order to socially and economically transform our communities and societies.”
In 2021, the NCC committed over N200 million into the promotion of research and development (R&D) to drive innovation in the telecoms sector. The Commission invested modestly in research grants, instituted professorial chairs in universities across the country, supported tech startups, and sponsored national essay competitions and many more social investments in order to ensure synergy and linkages among industry, the academia and the youth.
Strategic Vision Plan 2021-2025
In September, the NCC launched a new Strategic Vision (Implementation) Plan (SVP) 2021-2025, which defines its strategic thrusts for the next five years as well as a book by the EVC, “Catalysing Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Transformation through Broadband Infrastructure” and also unveiled the Commission’s new media channel – NCC Global Connect.
The new SVP 2021-2025 has five items namely: Organizational Renewal for Operational Efficiency and Regulatory Excellence; Facilitating the Provision of Infrastructure for a Digital Economy which fosters National Development; Promoting Fair Competition, Inclusive Growth, Increased investment and Innovative Services; Improve Quality of Service (QoS) for Enhanced Consumer Quality of Experience (QoE); and Facilitating Strategic Collaboration and Partnership.
It incorporates timelines and a robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism. It is equally outcome-based and recommendation-driven with follow-up actions to guide the Commission in operationalising the plan and assessing its performance over time.
Construction of ECCs
In October, the EVC of the NCC said its Emergency Communications Centres (ECCs) have become a rallying point for the promotion of security of lives and property of citizens. He revealed that the ECCs, 24 of which are currently operational in 23 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, processed about 34 million calls bordering on security and emergency issues in the first eight months of 2021. “The centres provided a platform for members of the public to seek life-saving information and support with regards to COVID-19 related cases by dialing ‘112’ from any of the networks. More remarkably, Nigerians have become more aware of and are using the 122 Emergency Number,” he disclosed.
Renewal of UASL for MTN, Airtel
The Commission renewed the Unified Access Service (UASL) Licence granted to MTN Nigeria and Airtel Nigeria for another period of 10 years. This was a precursor to the mobile operators participating in the 3.5GHz spectrum action in December 2021.
In September, the Nigerian government approved the deployment of the Fifth Generation Network (5G) in Nigeria. This was followed by the 3.5GHz spectrum auction for the deployment of 5G networks which held on Monday 13th December 2021 for the two 100-Megahertz (MHz) Lots on offer. MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications Ltd won the licence for 3.5GHz spectrum auction.
MTN and Mafab are expected to pay the sum of $273.6 million as well as $15.9 million and $11.120 million for Spectrum Assignment in the 3500MHz-3600MHz and 3700-3800MHz bands as the first preferred bid winner and the second preferred bid winner respectively on or before February 24, 2022. The two preferred winners are expected to pay $573.920 million (N237 billion) for the two licences to deploy 5G technology in Nigeria.
New Termination Rate for Intl’ Call
Finally, the NCC determined a new International Termination Rate (ITR) for voice services to paid by overseas telecom carriers for terminating international calls on local networks in Nigeria at $0.045. The $0.045 rate is the floor price for ITR services and shall take effect from January 1, 2022. The rate is to be paid in US Dollar to enable Nigerian operators to receive an increasing rate in Naira terms to accommodate devaluation.