Eugene Juwah

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

The Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr Eugene Juwah, has described the quality of telecoms service being provided across the country by operators as undesirable.

Juwah was speaking during a working visit to Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State.

He blamed the development on ignorance among the policy making level of government, adding that service could only be better if building of infrastructure was allowed without let or hindrance.

He said: “More investments are a critical success factor in improving the quality of telecoms services in the country. Many people do not understand that telecommunications can only be better with more infrastructure.  For instance, in the UK (United Kingdom), there are more than 65,000 base stations for telecommunications services, in a land mass that is far smaller than Nigeria’s. Nigeria is yet to achieve 25,000 installations across its huge land mass, yet many feel that we already have enough and are defacing the environment. In a place like Lagos with very huge population, we have fewer base stations than required.”

According to him, a study carried out by the NCC in 2009 identified a total of 6,196 masts and towers in Lagos State. He said about 48 per cent of this figure belonged to corporate bodies and individuals while those belonging to the telecoms companies were only 25 per cent of the figure.

“Those belonging to the banks constituted about 18 per cent while those belonging to unidentified owners were eight per cent. The broadcast stations had two per cent of this figure. Even if the number of base stations owned by operators, which is 2, 975 then, had increased by 100 per cent, it would still fall short of what is needed to serve Lagos subscribers,” he said.

He lamented that the nation is not blessed with many high-rises that would have served for location of base stations without a lot of people seeing them. “Our people are also very resistant to the idea of having more base stations near their offices for reasons that could only be traced to ignorance or misinformation,” he added.

Juwah said the regulator was also working at ensuring the security of the nation, especially during emergency situations, through the building of Emergency Communications Centres (ECC) across the country.

He said the NCC has elected to assist both the federal and state governments, to introduce the services across the nation in partnership with state governments, adding that the pilot of these centres in Awka, Anambra State, and Minna, Niger State, have already been commissioned. “Few more centres located in some other states would be commissioned soon. The NCC will equally appreciate the full collaboration and support of the Lagos State government to make Lagos a model city for emergency communications services. Our nation will be a better place to live in with an effective, pervasive and robust emergency communications services, assisting the police, fire service, ambulance services, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), National Emergency Management Services and other related services, a quicker way to respond to emergencies,” the NCC chief said.

“It is important to reiterate at this point that the quality of services in Lagos, and indeed, other parts of the country, is not desirable. Some of the challenges contributing to this are enormous but are gradually being surmounted. Some of them are well beyond the scope of the regulator, but we are assiduously, tackling those within our regulatory powers and hope that in the near future, with the networks investing more heavily, we will overcome the challenges.

“The most critical is the issue of Right of Way issues. We are already aware that you are involved with other governors in the National Economic Council in discussing and finding solutions to the issue of RoW in the country as currently being championed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, GCON. We only need to urge you to continue to support these patriotic efforts so that the objectives of providing easy passage for telecommunications infrastructure, to accelerate and encourage more investments in the country, are realized.

“Another challenge stems from ignorance, even at decision making levels. This situation is made worse by multiple taxations and regulations that await the service providers at the various levels of government, including state governments, local governments, and even some communities. In most cases, unfortunately, telecom masts and towers easily become specific targets for multiple taxes and regulations even where there are other masts and towers in existence, or even when appropriate taxes have been imposed at the federal level,” he added.

According to him, given the scenario of infrastructure deficit that has been painted above, the situation on the ground becomes very discouraging, as some of the service providers depend on very few base stations to serve the populace.  “We have noticed that some of these regulations exist in Lagos and it is our hope that this progressive administration will be disposed to taking a serious look at some of them with a view to eliminating double and inequitable taxation. This will in turn engender an enabling business environment that would encourage more investments and accelerate deployment of more telecom infrastructure and facilities,” Juwah said.

“On another extreme, vandalisation of telecommunications infrastructure has also taken its toll on the quality and availability of services. Sometimes, substantial lengths of fibre optic cables are inexplicably slashed, disconnecting millions of subscribers at a time. With the strategic location of Lagos, most of these vandalisations affect subscribers in the city. It is pertinent to note that we are currently pushing for a law that would classify and protect these telecom infrastructures as critical infrastructure that belong to the public and therefore would come under special protection of government,” he said, urging the governor to assist in promoting the passage of the law so as to preserve what the nation already has gained in the country through the sector.

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