The fear of imminent blackout of telecommunication services in some parts of the country looms large again as some state governments have sealed or threatened to close down Base Station Transmission (BTS) sites over unpaid taxes allegedly being owed by telecoms operators.
Telecoms operators over the past few years have unsuccessfully persuaded state governments from imposing extra taxes and levies on their operations because they increase the cost of doing business, can indirectly impact on quality of service and may trigger a rise in the cost of voice and data services for subscribers.
Kogi State is one of the states where the government, about two years ago started taxing telcos operating in the state and has at various times sealed base station sites for non-payment of telecoms levies by service providers.
The Oyo State government a few weeks ago, also announced that it had sealed some telecom masts and the premises of some commercial banks in Ibadan, the state capital, over non-payment of taxes.
The Osun State government recently contracted a private consulting firm to conduct a telecoms infrastructure installation audit, an exercise which is expected to generate N500m revenue for the state government.
Worried by these developments, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), has appealed to President Bola Tinubu to urgently intervene, stating that indiscriminate shutting down of telco facilities could disrupt services and adversely impact quality of service.
The operators said telecoms infrastructure are part of the critical national infrastructure that must be protected, and that sealing telecom masts and other facilities as a punitive measure to enforce collection of taxes would distort the flow of voice and data communication from the affected BTS sites.
Chairman of ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, decried indiscriminate imposition of multiple taxes and levies on telecom operators as a disincentive to the growth of the telecom sector despite its significant contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.
He maintained that governments at all levels should rather strengthen collaboration by ensuring the protection of telecoms infrastructure as telecommunication is a key enabler of socio-economic development, in particular job creation, digital economy and financial inclusion.
Adebayo added that base stations are significant hardwares that should not be tampered with as they are critical for accelerating data and voice transmission from one location to another, and for enhancing effective communication and financial transactions across all sectors of the Nigerian economy.
The telco operators called on President Tinubu for urgent intervention and also advocated for the formulation and implementation of a policy that will protect telecoms infrastructure from theft, willful destruction, and undue interference and overlapping of regulatory functions by multiple government agencies.
The ALTON Chairman insisted that the audit of telco infrastructure in Osun State including imposition of a levy on operators was double taxation, stressing that it would further increase the current 46 telecoms taxes that telecoms operators across the country are paying.
“Telcos are still facing challenges from the Kogi State government that has imposed all manners of taxes on telecoms operations and has gone ahead to seal base stations in the state, without recourse to quality of telecoms services in the state and its environs,” he lamented.
Adebayo appealed to the federal government and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to prevail on state governments to stop arbitrary sealing of BTS sites and other practices that harm the growth of the telecoms sector.
He warned that the impunity in Kogi, Oyo and Osun states could spread to other states of the federation and impact adversely on service quality, if not checked urgently.
The ALTON chief further described the prevailing situation, noting that infrastructure services and support systems for telecommunications are joint capital-intensive investments by telecoms infrastructure companies and telecom network operators. He alleged that the actions of the state governments were a threat to the huge investments.
Making further case for designating telecoms infrastructure as critical national assets, Adebayo called for a stoppage to the theft, vandalism and destruction of telecoms infrastructure by social miscreants and construction companies.
He said telecom infrastructure such as fibre optic cables cost so much money to acquire and install, and advised that care must be taken to protect them during road construction because if damaged, voice and data services would be impaired.