Telcos seek clarification as NCC suspends spectrum trading guidelines

Telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has announced the suspension of its spectrum trading guidelines of 2018.

Director, Public Affairs, at NCC Dr. Henry Nkemadu, said the regulator suspended the spectrum trading based on the decision of the regulator’s board of Commissioners which rose from its meeting to inform all licensed telecoms operators, prospective investors, industry stakeholders and the general public in that regard.

The suspended trading Guidelines were developed about two years ago after industry-wide consultations and this instrument allows that the Spectrum resource be traded on the Secondary Market through Transfer, Sharing or Leasing upon satisfying stipulated regulatory conditions.

The board, he said had earlier taken the decision for spectrum trading in response to telecoms global dynamics as well as the efforts to optimally utilise and maximise the benefits of the Spectrum scarce resource. Spectrum is a scarce commodity which when inefficiently utilised greatly limits broadband coverage and speeds.

The Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020 - 2025 launched by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja in March 2020 requires that these Guidelines be reviewed to ensure that unutilized spectrum is fairly traded and to facilitate rollout by other operators amongst others. This is to address the need for ubiquitous broadband deployment to accelerate penetration and access in line with the economic Agenda of the Federal Government. 

In accordance with the NNBP 2020 – 2025, for optimal use of spectrum, licensees have the obligation of the Use it or Lose It Policy because idle high demand spectrum does a disservice to poorly served populations and should be released for effective use as may be required to Promote Efficient Use of assigned Spectrum. The ‘Use it or Lose it’ rule should therefore apply in all instances where assigned spectrum is found to be non-utilized or underutilized and ensures unused spectrum is fairly traded to facilitate rollout by other operators.  

Reacting to the development, carriers in the country said the regulator would need to clarify its decisions because of the need to drive broadband penetration.

The President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria ((ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said the carriers area aware of the broadband targets and the centrality of spectrum to its achievement. He urged the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) chaired by Communications and Digital Economy Minister, Dr Isa Pantami, to look into why frequencies were idle.

He said during the ongoing pandemic, some carriers sought for spectrum to carry traffic, adding that the requests were still awaiting the blessing of the frequency Council.

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the regulator would need to engage with the stakeholders to chart a way forward.

But NCC said in response to the need for the review of these guidelines as highlighted above and also following Paragraph 12 of the Spectrum Trading Guidelines, 2018 which vests the Commission with the right to review/vary and modify these Guidelines from time to time as it may deem fit, the Spectrum Trading Guidelines 2018 application in Nigeria is hereby suspended until further notice as declared by the board.

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