NCC denies frequency racketeering allegation
By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria
The regulator of Nigeria’s telecommunications industry, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has denied reports that it has been engaged in frequency racketeering.
According to the regulator, it is not true that it has sold a frequency slot belonging to the Nigerian police to a private firm, Open Skys, adding that it has also not issued frequencies to Smile Communications without due process.
NCC, in a press statement averred that the story making these allegations lacks basic understanding of frequency allocation and its processes involved, resulting in unsubstantiated information capable of misleading the public and industry stakeholders.
The statement, which was endorsed by Reuben Muoka, head of media, noted that frequencies allocated to Open Skys and Smile Communications are in two frequency different bands, and followed a due process for similar frequencies at the Commission, and began since 2009, insisting that the frequency spectrum allocated to the Police by the Commission is intact and has not n any way affected by the allocation.
He added that Dr. Eugene Juwah, current boss of the commission, did not initiate the allocation of the aforesaid frequencies, having resumed in July 2010, while the process began since 2009.
“In the case of Open Skys, its allocation process began in 2008 following a Presidential directive to the Commission for allocation of a portion in the 450 MHz to NigcomSat. A request which the Commission’s Board acceded to on the condition that NigcomsatSat, being a government agency, must seek for private sector partnership before qualifying for such allocation.
Upon compliance and submission of the name of Open Skys, the company applied for the license and frequency in 2009. Note that the use of 450 MHz for commercial telecommunications was approved by the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) on Nov. 5, 2004. After this approval, occupants in this band like the police, Shell Petroleum Development Company, Agip, Chevron, and some others, were relocated to specific portions of the band from where they had indiscriminately occupied.
The Nigerian Police was specifically on 18th of October 2005, approved to be moved to 469.375 – 469.975 MHz / 459.375 – 459.975 MHz of this spectrum. Open Skys, in which NIGCOMSAT has interest, were to pay the police for the relocation cost estimated at N350 Million, which from our records, was complied with,” Muoka explained.
According to him, Open Skys was thereafter invoiced for the sum of N1.141billion, for 5 years, to enable the re-farming of the frequency while it paid the sum of N892,455,010.60 as frequency fee destined for the Federation Account while the balance of N247,544,989.40 later adjusted to N350 million would to cover the additional cost of replacement of the old radios belonging to the Police, since they will not be attuned to the new frequency spectrum, was paid, arguing therefore, that the allegation of racketeering with any frequency belonging to the Police, to and allocation to a private company, is false, as currently, the Nigerian Police, Shell, AGIP and others still have allocation on the different portions of the 450MHz Band.
He disclosed that all the decisions on the subject matter were taken by the Board of the Commission and all the due processes were followed. It is the Commission that also decides which of the available allocation processes as prescribed by the relevant laws, are applied during any allocation of frequencies.
“In the case of Smile Communications Ltd, the company was in 2009 awarded a Unified Access Service License (UASL) for ten years, till 30th June 2019, a Private Networks Link, PNL and a Spectrum in the 850 MHz Band for implementation of the licenses, having applied since 2008. Its applications were processed in line with sections 123 and 33 of the Act and in compliance with our licensing procedures.
“Smile Communications was licensed to provide broadband multimedia services on the 850 MHz Band nationwide and was assigned 15 MHz spectrum based on Time Division Duplexing (TDD) in the 850 MHz band to provide wireless access services in 2009,” the statement read.
Muoka recalled that in March 2010, Smile Communications appealed that their 15 MHz Time Division Duplexing (TDD) assignment to 10 MHz Frequency Division Duplexing (FDD), stressing that while this application was undergoing consideration, the Commission, first and foremost, took a decision to allocate additional 5MHz frequency on the TDD as earlier requested by Smile Communications to ensure effective use of the 15 MHz which it already had as the current status of the 15MHz would constitute a waste.
The consideration of its request, which implied a conversion of the spectrum from TDD to FDD for a lower value, is yet to be decided as this would require time and costs for re-farming all the frequencies, and also to accommodate many applications that are being made for its use due to the digital dividend opportunities.
For its universal access service licence (UASL), Smile Communications paid N320,250,000.00 on 26th June 2009, for the PNL license, it paid N46,830,000.00 on 26th February 2009, and for its Spectrum License with 10 years validity from July 2009, it paid N2,154,600,000 (Two Billion, One Hundred and Fifty Four Million, Six Hundred Thousand Naira which is for the Federation Account, and also paid N718,200,000 for the additional 5 MHz.
“We have taken efforts to provide details of these transactions to show clearly that Dr. Juwah has not even resumed at the NCC when the process of the allocations began. We also make bold to say that all due processes were taken in the allocations contrary to the allegations contained in the report,” NCC explained.