Despite the increasing rate of drop calls experienced by telecommunication consumers in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Wednesday, said the problem may persist, reeling out sundry constraints hampering on adequate service provision by the telcos.
While failing to guarantee improved service delivery by the telecommunication giants, the Commission went ahead to express concern that the problems associated with drop calls can only occur in Nigeria because of obvious systemic failure and administrative lapses.
At a Senate public hearing on increasing rate of drop calls and other unwholesome practices by telecommunication network operators in Nigeria, the Commission noted that telcos have robbed Nigerians of their hard earned billions of naira through incessant drop calls.
Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Dambatta, broadly acknowledged the worrisome menace of drop calls, as the Director, Technical Standards & Network Integrity at the Commission, Bako Wakil, reeled out causes of drop calls and what needed to be done to alleviate the problem.
Wakil said the Commission and service providers have enormous operating environment challenges such as infrastructure deficiencies, inadequate power supply, security challenges and government policies. According to him, actions of government at the national and state levels inhibit optimal performance of telecommunications service providers, resulting in unavoidable occurence of drop calls.
The commission said operators lose billions of naira to multiple regulations and multiple taxations by both federal government and host state governments. He went ahead to accuse some state governments of intimidating service providers with security personnel to armtwist them to collect illegal monies or risk the shutting down of facilities.
Wakil said “agents of state and state security services now see service providers as cash cows. State agents impound, cease and shut down base stations until money is paid”.
He cited a case of Kogi State where ten base stations were shut down by the state government in order to generate revenue. “This shutting down in Kogi State affected quality of service in ten other states such as Nasarawa, Benue, Niger, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory among others”, he said.
Wakil also alleged that some state governments make land acquisition processes for base station construction cumbersome and frustrating. The NCC said there should be synergy between service providers and the Ministry of Works at the federal and state level as operators do have their underground cables disrupted during road constructions. Of equal concern, he said, is security challenges occasioned by insurgent attacks which forced base stations operators to closed as soon as 6.00 pm instead of providing a 24 hours services.
The commission said the border closure policy of the Federal Government is affecting about 200 base stations along border towns. He said the stations were shut as a result of closure of filling stations 30 kilometers to border towns.
Wakil said “these problems occur in no other country but Nigeria. We need to find solutions or else we have not seeing nothing yet”. As a way out, the NCC called for harmonisation of rights of ways charges and bills across the nation, and the need to protect telecommunications equipment by security agencies.
The Commission asked the Federal Government to ensure that operators have access to foreign exchange to purchase hardware and equipment. However, the NCC came under criticism following an outburst against the commission by the Senate and Minister of Works for openly protecting telecoms companies over increasing cases of dropped calls.
The attack came following the public hearing on a motion titled: “Increasing rate of drop calls and other unwholesome practices by telecom network operators in Nigeria that had robbed Nigerians of their hard earned billions of Naira.” The public hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Communications in Abuja on Wednesday.
The NCC had accused the Federal Ministry of Works of contracting construction of projects to contractors who cut cables of telecom companies, resulting into the drop calls. The NCC Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity, Mr Bako Wakil, said telecoms service providers had become victims of multiple taxation by states and Federal Government. He also cited cases of vandalism of telecoms installations by criminals due to insecurity.
He said with the overstretched subscribers’ base, it was not easy for telecom service providers to provide the required capacity of infrastructure to adequately cover the country. He further blamed the state and federal governments for the high cost of right of ways, saying that in some states it is N5,000 per meter, while it could be higher in some others. He stated that in a particular month, they recorded 1,065 fiber cable cuts, even as he listed banditry, intermittent shutdown of service stations, poor power supply as part of the causes of drop calls, noting that such challenges happened only in Nigeria.
However, responding to the above claims by the NCC director, the Minister of Works, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, slammed the NCC, saying that government over the past 20 years had divested in state assets.
He said that laws had also been made within the period to ensure adequate regulations, emphasising that a regulatory agency had enormous powers and must have a different nationalistic mindset if it must succeed. According to him, the defence of double taxation by the state and federal governments on telecoms companies is ill-conceived, saying that such should not be coming from NCC that should regulate the companies.
He further dispelled the claim by NCC that there were poor power supply to the telecoms companies, reminding the senate that telecoms companies were asked to purchase their powers directly from the generating companies and bypass the distribution companies, yet they refused.
The minister, while expressing his displeasure at the NCC’s submissions, urged the Senate to invite more technical people to help them understand what was actually happening with regards to the drop calls.
Fashola revealed that at the onset of telecoms deregulation, the telecoms companies were asked to co-locate their cables, masts and installations, for better security, cheaper right of way and to avoid cutting of cables by contractors, but they refused and rather went to court to challenge government.
He said the head of the regulatory agency must be on the side of Nigerians, while encouraging investors. According to him, it is a question of service delivery to Nigerians.
Sen. Bamidele Opeyemi (APC-Ekiti) also berated the NCC for being on the side of telecoms operators. He said the matter affected almost every Nigerian and no telecoms company accounted for the costs incurred by costumers from drop calls.
This, he said, was not allowed in other countries, regretting that everything goes in Nigeria due to collusion between regulators and operators at the detriment of poor Nigerians.