Righting the right of way conundrum

July 15th, 2018

By Yakubu Musa

There was a consensus among notable figures who spoke at the recently
concluded GSMA World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain. They all wanted to see the conundrum of Right of Way permit, especially in the emerging economies tackled once and for all, to pave way for the rollout of the right infrastructure, ahead of much-talked-about Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Both the President of World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, and Chairman and
Founder of the GSMA, Mr Sunnil Bharti Mittall, were of the view that governments across the world should make the sacrifice of resisting the temptation of immediate revenue gains, which are at the expense of a promising future with so much socio-economic transformation.

“Governments demand a large amount of money for Right of Way,”
lamented Mittal.

Perhaps, nowhere is the clarion call more imperative than Nigeria, a
country striving to attain its set target of 30% broadband penetration as captured in the National Broadband Plan 2013-2018.

Yet in Nigeria, the snag is not only limited to exorbitant charges but the multiple taxations which the telecommunications firms are subjected by the different tiers of governments and their agencies.

Ironically, this is happening in spite of March 21, 2013’s resolution
of the National Economic Council (NEC) on Multiple Taxation, Levies
and Charges on ICT Infrastructure in Nigeria, which pegs N145 per
kilo meter for fibre. The implementation has so far been close to
impossible. The result is suffocating the industry.

“The Right of Way issue is something that refuses to go away despite the existence of a document guiding what should be charged as tax. Currently, nobody is complying with the provision of that document,” lamented the Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, while he receiving a delegation from Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council recently.

Obviously, his decision to make stakeholder collaboration and
partnership a key component of the 8-Point Agenda he unveiled few
months after assuming office is both deliberate and strategic. The
idea was to develop an effective partnership with relevant
stakeholders to foster Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for sustainable socio-economic transformation in the country. Hence, the desire to expand the broadband and other telecommunicationinfrastructure is at the heart of the agenda.

Nonetheless, good leaders are not only renowned for their exceptional vision, as it is rather their passion and tenacity that push them to actualise their dreams. These traits have been evident in Danbatta’s approach to implementation of his strategic vision plan, especially the consistently proactive manner he has engaged both external and internal stakeholders of the industry. No sooner was the roadmap unveiled than he hit the road with the nation-wide campaign against the age-long factors militating against the industry; debilitating factors not only against the much-talked-about, and of course much-sought-after, Quality of Service (QoS), but which have remained a clear clog in the wheel regarding our journey to the attainment of the 2018 target.

In Ogun State, for example, Danbatta’s intervention brought about unsealing of 47 base stations hitherto under lock and key. The icing
on the cake of this highly successful intervention was that the state
governor, Mr Ibikunle Amosun, also slashed IHS Towers’ outstanding
ground rent from N370 million to N120 million.

No doubt, those who understand the working of the industry can
appreciate the kind of damage shutting down of 47 base stations can
inflict on Quality of Service in that particular state and beyond.

While the Ogun intervention was hailed as a huge success, Kano — the
EVC’s home state — would soon be in the news for a similar
crisis! Some staff of Huwawei working on telecommunication
infrastructure expansion in Kano State on behalf of MTN Nigeria were rounded up, apprehended by officials of the state government’s agency, Kano State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KANUPDA).

There was palpable apprehension in the industry, that such continuous tinkering with a project of immense socio-economic benefit to the state and the country at large portends grave danger to the nation’s economy. Specifically, there’s the notion that failure to swiftly nip in the bud the contentious issue at hand would certainly precipitateadverse effects for service quality among millions of subscribers to telecom services in the state and beyond. Yet, the ultimate casualty would have been the nation’s broadband penetration target.

Nevertheless, when MTN reported the matter to the NCC, Danbatta
promptly made an unscheduled visit to the state governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. He made the same compelling arguments that the likes of Mr Mittal are advancing now. And, thankfully, the governmentmagnanimously waived the permit fee of N221,000,000 for deployment of fibre infrastructure in that state. However, what the state might have lost in instant revenue generation, it now stands to gain even more from the rolled out infrastructure.

On the whole, Danbatta has remained doggedly committed in his
advocacy to ensure that all the roadblocks heaped on Nigeria’s path to broadband glory are dismantled. The NCC, under his stewardship, has also concluded the process of licensing all in the infrascos to handle the broadband infrastructure expansion in the country, while more spectrums have been auctioned and assigned in the last two years.
Needless to say, the country is already reaping the benefits. For
instance, the level of broadband penetration was merely eight percent the year he took over the affairs of the industry; but that has grown to 22 percent now, according to the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission.

Nevertheless, despite the gratifying success story so far, the fact
that a lot of hard work still is needed for Nigeria to achieve her
target could not be easily missed by anyone. As recently revealed by
Danbatta, Nigeria needs over 120,000 kilometers of metropolitan fibre network built across the country for ubiquitous broadband penetration.
However, the fact that only 38,000 kilometers have been covered so
far, according to him, reflects the enormity of the challenge and the
compelling need for the Federal Government to ensure that all the 36 state governments of the federation strictly adhere to the NEC’s resolution on the RoW as well as new investment in the sector.

Yet, to Danbatta, even if the target is achieved, it would be in vain
if there is no corresponding human capacity in the country to take
advantage of the development.  This explains his unwavering enthusiasm towards attaining the desired
“critical mass of ICT adoption and use to drive the digital revolution”. He needs our collective support.

Musa, Special Assistant ( Media) to EVC-NCC wrote in from Abuja

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