BARELY three months after the Nigerian Communication Commission reached agreement with industry stakeholders on the open access model for the deployment of optic fibre that will bridge the current broadband gaps, enhance development of local content and deliver cost effective services to Nigerian households and businesses, two winners have emerge from among infrastructure companies (InfraCo) for the licences: Main One and IHS for the Lagos and North Central zones, respectively.
The announcement was made at the 4th Industry Stakeholders Forum in Lagos last month under the auspices of the Ministry of Communication Technology, whose minister, Dr Omobola Johnson, gave an account of the ministry’s progress since it was established four years ago.
The NCC and her sister agencies under the Ministry – the National Information Technology Development Agency, Galaxy Backbone, Nigerian Postal Services, NIPOST and Nigerian Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT – were on hand to provide their insights and perspectives on some specific industry issues. The NCC used the questions, answers and comments session to make major announcements on its licensing of InfraCos, clarify erroneous impressions on some national industry issues and provide an update on global ICT trends as they affect Nigeria and Nigerians.
A participant pointed that following NITEL’s privatisation, its licence covered some of the key parts of InfraCo licensing. Bur he noted that there were seven zones for licences, and NITEL would appear to be the eighth InfraCo. How would the licensing be reconciled?
The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) and chief executive of the NCC, Dr Eugene Juwah explained: “Well, concerning InfraCo, the plan was to divide the country into seven zones and to licence Lagos and North Central first. NCC has concluded the bidding process and has selected licensees for the Lagos and North central zones.
“I do not mind telling you that the licensee for Lagos is MainOne. The licensee for North Central is our new national infrastructure company in Nigeria called HIS. Now, their award letters are already underway and what we are just working out with them is the detailed contractual obligations both on NCC and on them.”
On the NITEL issue, the EVC stated that the NCC did licensed metropolitan fibre operators that were able to do the job. “With the new infracos, a new regulation is coming because, we want vibrant laying and fibre utilisation to be more efficiently done, and when you want to go to a new area now, you require NCC’s approval. So in doing that we will be able to connect both the new infracos and also the licences that NCC has issued in the past,” Juwah said.
Another questioner wanted to know whether was it possible for the Ministry to support the effort to have digital rights secured for all Nigerians and to have a digital free environment. Another question was on data privacy legislation.
In her response, Johnson stated that there was internet freedom in the country, adding that her ministry is disposed to supporting the proposed Bill on internet freedom. “I think that in this country today the internet is actually very free. You can do anything you want on the internet. Anybody can say anything they want to say on the internet. I think for me what we should be promoting is internet freedom with digital responsibility and I think we need to find a way of crafting that into the Bill. So while we are promoting and advocating internet freedom, I think we need to be able to balance it with some level of responsibility for people around us. I think we will be tremendously happy to be involved and support you in making sure the bill is forwarded to the National Assembly. I will now ask the EVC of the NCC to answer on the aspect bothering on Internet Security,” Johnson said.
She added: “Internet freedom is encapsulated in the idea of freedom of expression as we have it in the US. And this has been a very controversial topic even within the community of the ITU. The point here is that freedom of expression is not limitless. There have been interventions by governments on different spheres from a total ban on programmes in China and Pakistan… There can be damaging information and that is where cybersecurity comes in. And there can be damaging information- information that will exacerbate an already viral political situation and cause riot in the developing world. So, that is why there has to be a cybersecurity law. Cybersecurity actually has to do with curbing most of the non-social activities on the Internet, especially something like hacking and committing fraud, pornography, and also transmitting political statements that can cause public problems, especially in emerging democracies like Nigeria. In Nigeria a cybersecurity bill that has been designed in collaboration with international bodies, is today before the National Assembly. So in Nigeria, we are dealing with both Internet Freedom and Cybersecurity at the same time,” Johnson said.
“Somebody asked about digital migration which has to do really with broadcasting and as a matter of fact, broadcasting is yet not under the purview of the Ministry of Communication Technology; it is under the purview of the Ministry of Information, but I think that the date is June 21, 2015 and by the information gathered from the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, they are greatly committed to meeting the date,” she added.
By and large, the body language of a cross section of the audience, who applauded while the names of the initial two winners were announced, seemingly reflected its satisfaction with the choice of MainOne and IHS. Both firms are major players in the provision of infrastructure in the nation’s telecom industry. However, some members of the audience, who shared views with our reporters, raised concerns about the danger of both MainOne and IHS becoming monopolies, which would subject consumers of services to their whims and caprices.
But a senior member of staff of the NCC, who spoke with our reporter on grounds of anonymity, stated it would be an anomaly for the telecom regulator to fold its arms and allow anti-competitive behaviours to exist in the market, for guarding against such is of the essence of regulation.
Juwah said the announcement of other winners for the other zones will come ‘very soon.’
Licensing of Infracos is a critical prelude to the ensuing broadband revolution in the country. The Commission had initiated a broadband plan which was later adopted as a national broadband roadmap that got the seal of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Other than the EVC, other staff of the Commission who graced the occasion included but are not limited to the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Engagement, Dr OkechukwuItanyi, Director Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo, Head, Public Relations, Rueben Muoka, Head, Media, Sonny Aragba-Akpore and Special Assistant to the EVC,. Okoh Aihe.