NBC denies spectrum sale to MTN Nigeria

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

Regulator of the broadcast sector, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has denied selling spectrum to MTN Nigeria as reported in a few platforms in the country a few days ago.

Director General of NBC, Emeka Mba said what the Commission did was to look inwards and see how it could ingenuously raise the needed funding for the achievement of digital switch-over (DSO) which the country missed June 17 this year.

He said in the face of lack of funding from the federal government, it used what it had to raise N34 billion which is the Commission licence.

He said.  “I have read in some papers that we sold spectrum. Well, NBC does not sell spectrum. What we deal with is frequency. So, I am glad to inform you that we have successfully licensed MTN Nigeria Ltd to use a part of the 700 MHz (megahertz) to provide digital pay TV broadcasting services. We have thus raised N34billion slightly less than 50 per cent of our budget. I am pleased to inform you, also, that through this singular move, Nigeria has once again pointed the way for other African countries struggling with the effort of finding financing for their own digital switchover programmes. 

“It may be necessary to clarify that the use of the band, 470 – 862MHz solely for UHF Television Broadcasting Service on a primary basis in Nigeria predates both the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

“As a matter of fact, most Administrations in ITU Region 1use the entire 470 – 862 MHz for UHF Television Broadcasting prior to ITU WRC-2007 conference.

“In 2006, ITU planned the entire 470 – 862MHz frequency band for Digital UHF Television Broadcasting for ITU Region 1 to which the Nigerian Administration belongs.  As a matter of fact, the planning of 470 – 862MHz frequency band for Digital UHF Television is referred to in the ITU circle as GE-06 Plan and after the Signing of the Agreements resulting from this Plan it is now referred to as the GE-06 Agreement.

“This should clear any doubts as to where these frequencies belong until after the completion of the digital switch over.”

He recalled the helplessness of the NBC when on June 17, this year, Nigeria had to eat the humble pie and admit to the whole world that she could not meet that deadline of transiting to digital terrestrial broadcasting set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“On that day we copiously explained how much work we had done since June 2006 when the deadline was announced, using our meagre recurrent resources while waiting for government to provide both direction and financial support to enable us meet the high expense elements of the transition.

“It was not until June 17, 2012 that the White Paper giving direction to the process came out. Again, we continued doing those things we could which included engaging and sensitising the broadcast sector, setting out the technical specifications for the set top box and putting in place then Electronic Programme Guide system, in addition to a successful pilot project in Jos, Plateau State.  All this while we were waiting for the financing of our budget of 70 Billion Naira from Government,” he said, adding that “we have now coordinated another agreement with our West African neighbours and have agreed on a new deadline of June 20, 2017 to complete the digital switchover and achieve analogue switch off.”

Mba said when it became obvious that government could not spare the money, and in order to avoid missing another deadline, NBC began to consider other options.

Referring to the frequency licensed to MTN, he said: “Our broadcast frequency, which is to eventually form part of the digital dividend after the DSO, had portions of it laying fallow while our broadcasters were still using parts of it. We therefore proposed and got proper permission from government to license part of our spectrum laying fallow and to use the proceeds to finance the DSO.”

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