Fresh worries for telecoms operators
By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria
For telecoms operators in Nigeria, these are certainly not the best of times as officials of Lagos State government has begun the demolition of base transceiver station (BTS) in the state that is the commercial nerve centre of the country and boasts of a population of about 20 million people.
Low quality of telecoms service has been a recurring decimal in the country with regulator of the sector, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently wielding the big stick, imposing huge financial sanction on all the global service mobile (GSM) communication providers in the country.
A new agency under the Ministry of Physical Planning & Urban Development, Urban Furniture Regulatory Unit (UFRU), last week came down heavily, demolishing BTS in some parts of metropolitan Lagos.
Reacting to this development, the lone voice of descent in the industry, the National Association of Telecom Subscribers (NATCOMS) warns the development could compound the service quality issue and put people’s lives at risk in a country that has suddenly become a haven for terrorists who carry out strike at will without let or hindrance.
NATCOMS is upset that an agency “under the headship of Joe Igbokwe, went to some parts of Lagos State, particularly Okota, and in a fit of gangsterism, uprooted some base stations under the pretence that such BTS endangered people’ lives, when the real motive is revenue generation.”
Deolu Ogunbanjo, president of the body said its members are not against government’s attempt to squeeze money out of telecoms firms in the state, pulling down BTS tantamount to an act of unprovoked aggression.
“Whilst we are not against the government generating revenue to finance its laudable projects, but the agency’s resort to self-help and unprovoked aggression is a total negation of the rule of law professed by the state government. Our concern here is that the illegal acts of the agency stated above affected adversely the telecoms needs of our members in the areas where such illegalities were carried out, and they have complained to us,” the president lamented.
NATCOMS reasons that the agency’s excuse for such an illegal act was the protection of the lives of people in the areas affected which it says is just a subterfuge. If the agency had had a second thought, it would have found out that its complaints about BTS endangering the lives of the citizens and pulling them down much more constituted greater danger to the citizens.
“Just imagine in a moment of security challenges such as discovery of planted bomb, kidnapping, rioting, armed robbery siege, medical emergency, earth tremor etc, when those distress calls need to be made, and the BTS are no longer there to relay the signals, the ensuing perils would be worse,” the body argues.
Installation of BTS has a procedure regulated by the NCC, and this is to guarantee the safety of the infrastructure, the people living around it, and the environment.
It argues that even in the event of non-compliance with laid down procedure by a particular BTS and there is a resultant damage, it is simply a case of negligence actionable in a civil court by the victim, and it is not for the state agency to resort to show of brutal force, as it occurred at Okota, where the illegal uprooting of a BTS took place under the armed protection of the Police.
In the light of the foregoing, “we appeal to the Honourable Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning & Urban Development, to restrain the agency, UFRU, from further resorting to brute force. There are better ways of handling a matter like that,” the body notes.
The twin-issue of multiple regulation and taxation has been haunting the telecoms sector for quite a while. At a point, it was NESREA that suddenly woke up and started shutting down base stations.
The operators have never hidden their dissatisfaction over the development as it takes a huge chunk of their already high operational expenditure (opex). They say all manner of spurious taxes are extorted by federal, state and local government authorities while street urchins known Area Boys, community leaders and other community organizations. The National Assembly has promised to look into the matter.
A telecoms engineer says BTS is an integral part of an efficient telecommunications system. It connects two phone users for voice conversation, text message transmission, and data relay.
And in order to achieve quality service delivery, a state or city is usually divided into zones, technically known as Cell sites, and BTS are installed in each zone to guarantee efficient telecomms signals.
Absence or inadequacy of BTS creates a couple of problems, such as call-drops, data transmission failure, overloading of available cell sites, undermining security of phone users, decapitating the economic empowerment of phone users, etc. And because of the pivotal role of BTS as a telecomms infrastructure, it is a critical national asset, and for this reason, a lot of care need to be exercised in dealing with issue surrounding BTS.