NCC’s Ndukwe lays out his stall for 2009; broadband acceleration and reduced interconnect

Telecoms

Executive Vice-Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Ernest Ndukwe, at the weekend refused to be perturbed by allegations levelled against him by a member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, as he announced what the commission is doing this year to move the telecommunications industry forward.

He listed several efforts the commission and the industry will embark on this year aimed at ensuring that Nigerians get the best of the telecommunications revolution and benefit from technology advancement.

For 2009, Ndukwe said NCC is already working on the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the country. "With the licensing of 3G in 2007, we are inching towards broadband acceleration. Nigeria is one of those countries where wireless applications have taken root.

"Apart from the people that get it through their mobile infrastructure, the GSM and CDMA are doing a lot already." He said NCC has got to the stage of implementing the much talked about Accelerated Broadband Initiative, SABI.

"We have got to the final stages of that and like what had happened in the year before, the two Ministers of Information and Communications are eager in pushing this through, so we think in the next three or four months, a lot will happen.

"We have also given frequencies to those companies to enable them go round and do it copiously. So, by the end of the year, you will see a lot of broadband infrastructure rolled out across the country with good enough speed to make us happy. In the next few weeks, we shall be holding a forum to discuss how the speed of broadband is improved in our country. Many people are not happy with the current speed and there are bottlenecks and other and the forum is to seek a solution. I must say I have read it in the newspapers like anybody because there is no single company that has approached NCC for tariff increase," he said.

Ndukwe said there was no iota of truth in rumours making the rounds that NCC and the operators are planning to increase tariff this year. According to him, any company that is increasing tariffs today would be shooting itself in the foot because there is too much competition in the market already. And that he will be surprised if any of the companies is contemplating increasing its tariff.

"Our approach is to intervene with interconnect rates. So far, we have intervened two times. We intend to hire consultants to see whether we will have another reduction in interconnect rates.

"Once that is done, we think there will be further reduction in tariffs rather than increase. I do not think there is any truth in that allegation except that some people want to use it to become popular. You know there is this populist agenda going on. When somebody wants to be popular, picks on something that is sensitive like tariffs. We at the NCC are surprised because there was neither whisper about it nor application from any operator.

"I know some operators made some remarks because of some problems they are having with a particular local and state government, but no formal application has been made to the NCC and if such application comes, we know how to respond to it. So, as far as I am concerned, it does not have any background."

On the impact of the currently economic meltdown on the telecom sector, Ndukwe disclosed that the NCC recently has been exchanging views on the matter and will soon hold a forum on it to find out what the impact could be because as wise as NCC could be, the people that wear the shoes more are the people that operate in the environment.

"We did not want a situation where companies start falling like park of cards and businesses closing down because it will bring out issues like employment and things of that nature.

" So, I cannot predict outright what the possible impact would be. We were discussing on the impact on Nigeria. I am sure it will be there, but I do not think it will be that heavy. My only argument about that is that Nigeria is not an export-oriented economy. When you look at countries with heavy manufacturing base like China, Taiwan, you would have noticed a major drop in their businesses, exporting goods. It happened to car manufacturers even last time, China could not export the kind of Christmas goods they used to export.

"To us the biggest effect is in the oil price that has gone below what it used. So obviously, it will require us to do some cost cuttings there and become a bit innovative. It will affect the telecom industry if the buying power of the subscribers or users is reduced. It will mean the amount spent on making calls will be reduced and the revenue of the operators will go down and I hope it will not lead to laying off staff and things like that," he added.

Daily Independent