Juwah Seeks Fashola's Support on Service Quality, Right of Way

By The Rainbow

Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Eugene Juwah has sought the  support of the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, for resolution of identified problems associated with right of way and multiple taxes and levies at various levels of government which have become impediments to realizing good quality of telecom services in Nigeria.

Dr. Juwah who recently paid a courtesy visit to Gov. Fashola at his Alausa office, in company of two commissioners and other officials of the Commission, informed the governor that the nation has about 119 Million active subscribers while teledensity reached more than 85 per cent from some 0.4%, while contributing more than 7 .8 per cent to the national GDP, and that Lagos State controls more than 15 per cent of the mobile phone subscriber population in Nigeria, hence its position is seen as critical in matters that affect telecommunications services.

He said while it is important to reiterate that quality of services in Lagos, and indeed, other parts of the country, is not desirable, there are challenges contributing to this with the Right of Way issues being the most critical.

'We are already aware that you are involved with other governors in the National Economic Council in discussing and finding solutions to the issue of RoW in the country as currently being championed by Vice President Namadi Sambo. We urge you to continue to support these patriotic efforts so that the objectives of providing easy passage for telecommunications infrastructure, to accelerate and encourage more investments in the country, are realized'.

He also acquainted the Governor with the level of the nation's infrastructure deficit with reference to the paucity of masts and towers in Nigeria with less than 25,000 base stations compared with a country like UK with  up to 65,000 base stations adding that a 2009 survey by the NCC showed that out of a total of 6, 196 masts and towers in Lagos, 48 per cent belonged to corporate bodies and individuals, 25 per cent belonged to telecom operators, 18% to banks, 8% to unidentified owners and 2% to the broadcast industry. He said even if the number of base stations owned by operators, which was 2, 975 then, had increased by 100%, it would still have fallen short of what is needed to serve Lagos subscribers alone', he said.

'Your Excellency, this situation is made worse by multiple taxations and regulations that await the service providers at the various levels of government, including state governments, local governments, and even some communities. In most cases, unfortunately, telecom masts and towers easily become specific targets for multiple taxes and regulations even where there are other masts and towers in existence, or even when appropriate taxes have been imposed at the Federal Level.

Given the scenario of infrastructure deficit that we have painted above, the situation on ground becomes very discouraging as some of the service providers depend on very few base stations to serve the populace.  'We have noticed that some of these regulations exist in Lagos and it is our hope that this progressive administration will be disposed to taking a serious look at some of them with a view to eliminating double and inequitable taxation. This will in turn engender an enabling business environment that would encourage more investments and accelerate deployment of more telecom infrastructure and facilities', he said.

Dr. Juwah also brought the attention of the Governor to vandalization of telecommunications infrastructure which has taken its toll on the quality and availability of services, and the need to support the Commission in pursuit of the critical infrastructure bill at the National Assembly as Lagos is mostly affected in any of these vandalization incidents.

The NCC boss also invited the  Governor for collaboration in the  implementation of the Emergency Communications Centres, ECC, across the country as the pilots have already been commissioned at Awka  and Minna, so that Lagos will be a model city for this national assignment which the Commission has elected to bring to the nation.

Governor Fashola in his response, commended Dr. Juwah 'for the thoughtfulness and initiative of the broadband' .

'You will regulate the allocation of frequencies, you will regulate bandwidths and so many other things but you cannot regulate where the towers and mast are positioned, you need me as indeed you need all of my colleagues to determine where the right of way will be and under what conditions and this was the point that we took', he said

He regretted that a lot of time have been lost in the legal process in the matter of approvals for the operators for erection of masts because of the disagreement with his government which refused to grant approvals for new installations and government's insistence on  collocation, payment of levies, and quality of installations. He promised to bring the dispute out of the courts for amicable settlement.

He disagreed with the use of the term multiple taxation as a proper way to  describe levies being imposed on operators for services rendered to them at state levels as the operators'  licenses for operation does not foreclose payment for the land and other associated fees.

' It is an incidence of the nature of business that they have  entered, the issues we should be talking about is how to mitigate cost and that is what I've told my colleagues that we cannot make revenue from the cost of right of way or from the cost of setting up masts and towers”, he said.

'Lagos State does not seek to do so, we see the revenue in the business growth that ICT and stronger broadband and fiber optic capacity give to citizens, that's where I see money. The revenue that comes from businesses, more people employed, paying more income tax is much more than what any government could ever collect', he said.

He however, chided the operators for not applying appreciable level of corporate governance as  is evident in the types of contractors that they use, resulting in damages to infrastructure like roads already built by the government.

'There must be a sense of patriotism from the contractors and I choose my words very carefully, by the contractors being used by the telecom operators in laying their infrastructure, a sense of ownership and duty to protect the existing public asset. They're not enough, so the few that we have, we must protect, it can't be I want to do business, I want to give people telephone, I don't care if we get lost, so this really is the heart of the matter', he said, while promising to 'get the parties out of court, so that we can set a regulatory regime in which everybody can work together', he said.