NSA Intervenes in Row Over Nigeria’s Internet Exchange Point
The Office of the National Security Adviser has intervened to broker peace in another landmark row over control of Nigeria 's Internet space that has pitted Interstella Communications Limited, a licensee for Internet Exchange Point (IXP) against the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms regulator, over the former's bid to be the exclusive carrier of Internet traffic in the country.
Interstella is claiming N10 billion in a landmark suit filed against NCC and other government agencies including the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and Galaxy Backbone Plc over alleged breach of service exclusivity granted the company.
Only recently, the nation's Internet community was able to successfully resolve a lengthy dispute over control of the Nigerian Internet domain name, the .ng, leading to the formation of the Nigerian Internet Registration Association (NIRA), a non-governmental organisation representing various public and private sector stakeholders that manages the national resource on behalf of the Nigerian Internet community.
Chairman, Interstella, Obi Thomson who dropped hint of the brewing crisis in a chat with newsmen in Umuahia during a facility tour of the company's network says a meeting convened by the NSA was held September 6, this year to resolve the matter. Noting that he could not disclose specific details of measures underway by the nation's top security agency to resolve the dispute but only hinted that, "the office of the NSA which is a responsible government agency is addressing the issue right now."
According to him, Nigeria today, despite its low Internet penetration has "a porous cyberspace where criminals around the world have found the Nigerian cyberspace a safe haven" because of the non-implementation of a proper IXP to be the clearing house for Internet traffic in the county. With the Interstella model underway, he adds that the company is poised to drive down the $20,000 currently charged by the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) on its leased circuit to $2,000 to service providers while it plans to charge only N2.30 per minute on international calls that will be transported via the Internet backbone rather than on the network of existing telecoms companies.
However, with the brewing row, Thomson is fighting the setting up of the Nigeria Internet Exchange Point (NIXP), a government-backed initiative to keep internet local internet traffic within the country, alleging that its formation by NCC breaches service exclusivity provision of licence granted Interstella by the regulator. According to the Interstella chairman, NCC has admitted that the initial licence granting exclusive IXP right to Interstella, "was issued in error" when the regulator was confronted that the setting up of NIXP constituted a breach and significantly altered business plans undertaken based on this model, "which aims to assert the cyber sovereignty of Nigeria." Following Interstellla's disclosure Technology Times made efforts weekend to independently verify the claim that NCC admitted to issuing the licence "in error" but the mobile phone of the regulator's spokesman, Dave Imoko, was not answered. Additionally, Thomson disclosed that the issue hit a crisis point when an earlier meeting was convened by government after the obvious conflict of the NIXP creation was brought to the attention of the authorities.
At the peace meeting, it was agreed that a compensation package totalling US$8 million, representing 50 per cent of theUS $16 million the company said it has sunk into the rollout of its network was to be refunded to Interstella while a public-private partnership (PPP) model was to be adopted, Thomson disclosed. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had directed the NCC to set up the NIXP following his attendance of the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis where the issue of IXPs as a panacea for cutting the huge international bandwidth cost spent by African nations on local Internet traffic that could have been kept within their national border through peering of local ISPs. Meanwhile, Thomson alleged that NCC carried out the directive of the ex-President was carried out without recourse to the fact that an "exclusive" licence had previously been issued Interstella, "upon which we made our investment plans." According to him, "what happened in Tunis is not that the former President did not say disregard what was already on ground" adding that, "everyone knows that the verbal wish of any President does not have the force of law."