MTN calls for release of Visafone spectrum

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

MTN Group has asked the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to release the spectrum of Visafone, the only surviving Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operator in the country, to it, having acquired its equity about two years ago.

It also requested for more spectrums from the regulator to enable it to offer more services to its over 60 million customers in the country.

The Group Chairman/Chief Executive, MTN Group, Mr. Phuthuma Nhleko who presented this basket of demands when he led a high level delegation to the NCC Headquarters in Abuja, also expressed faith in Nigeria’s economy despite the telco’s spat with the regulator over subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration infractions.

Nhleko, who is scheduled to step down as Group Chairman in March, said MTN Group has invested over $16billion into the Nigerian operations. “We have a very long way to go and so ask for spectrum which is the oxygen and life blood to navigate this long and tedious investment journey because without spectrum, the sector will suffocate,” he told the CEO, NCC, Prof Garba Danbatta.

Specifically, he asked for more spectrum allocation and a release of the one that belonged to Visafone, whose equity shares MTN acquired in 2015.

Nhleko, who was received by Prof Danbatta and top management staff of the Commission, said the Group is willing to invest more in the sector in the years to come.

Responding to the request for spectrum, Dambatta said: “We are open to further discussion on the areas of spectrum assignment. Just put across your request for spectrum and we will check for its availability.”

Speaking on the challenges that arose from the N330b fine imposed on it by the regulator last year, he said: “We had challenges in the past, during the period of the fine, and we are grateful for the role the Commission played towards an amicable resolution.”

He also canvassed for a more level playing field “despite being dominant player”.

He said MTN has made its mark in voice and data services and that more services like mobile financial services are underway.

A statement endorsed by the Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Tony Ojobo, explained that Prof. Danbatta assured the delegation that the Commission will always play by the rules and support every operator within the ambits of the law.

Dambatta said: “I like to state that our word is our covenant.  When we take decisions, we are concerned about the stability of the industry and there is no way we can guarantee it without considering the dominant status of MTN and its obligations and if the dominant status is becoming stringent, we are open to engagement, we will be guided by what is happening in the market, to ensure the growth and development of the sector.

“The sector has contributed very well to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has shown remarkable resilience in this recession.”

Danbatta said the NCC has made a request to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on the need to relax its stringent fiscal policies towards the sector, especially its policy on foreign exchange that has asphyxiated businesses.

“The CBN governor is favourably disposed to our request and further engagement especially towards major players who desire to import equipment to aid deployment of broadband infrastructure services and others,” he said.

The Commission, he explained, will always carry out interventions to support operators in the provision of necessary services.

On spectrum assignment, Danbatta, said MTN got six slots in the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) auction, hoping that the telco will make full utilisation the spectrum.

“The Commission is here to protect the interests of the operators as well as consumers, consistent with our mandate, the trust reposed on us by the government and people of Nigeria; protecting their interests and ensuring a level playing field and respect for our laws,” he said, adding that the Commission only resorts to sanctions as a regulatory action of last resort after allowing time for checking compliance.

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