Telcos threaten service blackout on states shutting BTS

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria’s telecoms operators have threatened not to reopen any base transmission station (BTS) that were forcefully shut down by states, and local government areas and their agents searching for ways to boost internally generated revenue (IGR) across the country.

The carriers, acting under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), warned that subscribers in the six states of Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and Kaduna, allegedly noted for arbitrary shut down of BTS, may no longer be able to make or receive calls or may be forced to pay higher tariff if it persisted.

The carriers are also seeking from the government of Nigeria, concessions by way of waivers and tax relieves to fix the BTS, exchanges and other critical equipment damaged by insurgents in the North East part of the country, the hot bed of Boko Haram attacks, lamenting that it has remained difficult to get access to restore services in the communities.

ALTON lamented that in Ondo State, some 35 BTS have already been closed down by either the state, local government or their agents in search of IGR.

ALTON national Chairman, Engr Gbenga Adebayo, who spoke in Lagos, said: “Members of ALTON are very responsible corporate citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: the services offered by our members cuts across the entire operating spectrum of the industry, including network operations network infrastructure as well as other critical Value Added and support services. Our infrastructure is spread throughout Nigeria – therefore, we are natural growth partners to all tiers of government.”

ALTON considers tax payment as a matter of patriotic duty being one of the elements of good corporate governance, adding that members also appreciate the fiscal pressure on Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the respective federal, state and local government areas, particularly, in the face of dwindling federal allocation.

He said taxes and levies should however be broad-based and fairly distributed across all sectors of the economy, arguing that there is no justification for targeted and sometime very high taxes on telecom operations.

 “We are calling for a cross-sector/multi-stakeholder approach to reduce growing burden of taxation on our industry; telecom being in the Exclusive Legislative List of federal taxes, there is a need to streamline all such taxes and levies which such should not be aimed mainly at telecoms infrastructure.

“We are very concerned about the recurring cases of telecom sites closure by government agents; we continue to record cases of arbitrary site closure in many states of the federation in an attempt to force service providers to pay local taxes and levies some of which are multiple in nature and most of which are only directed at telecom operators;

“We are considering very carefully the situation of site closure and harassment of our members in Ogun, Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Osun and Kaduna states due to arbitrary closure of telecom sites and actions of government impacting on our operations; many sites in these states have been shut down or about to be shut by agents of government not minding the security and economic implications on their states.

“We may begin anytime soon to have them feel the impact of their actions on telecom operators if they do not desist from deliberate disruption of our operations.”

“The states are treating our industry as an extractive industry and imposing myriads of taxes on our member and closing down the BTS sites arbitrarily,” he said.

Adebayo said ALTON will no longer tolerate resort to arbitrary sealing of BTS without following the guidelines provided by the sector regulator, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and in line with best practices.

Said he, “Any state or local government authority that closes our sites: our members will not reopen such sites: we will serve the necessary warnings and if such practices continue: we are then faced with two options: first is to pay the charges by such state government, and to increase the tariff chargeable for calls originating and terminating from networks in such states with all the attendant service delivery issues.

“Where such actions on the part of government continue: we shall then advise all our members, after due consultation with relevant authorities, because of the security and economic implications, to shut down the entire network in such state for one full day as a final warning to such state or local government area.”

Speaking on the spurious taxes being levied on the industry, he wondered what telecom operations have got to do with ‘Eco Tax for gaseous emission and gaseous emission” when telcos do not have moving machineries and production lines.

He asked: “What has telecom service got to do with sewage, sanitation and public convenience levy, when we are not hotel and bar operators? What has telecom services got to do with sanitation and refuse effluent tax: when we don’t operate fast food centres? How can a base stations situation in farm land be regarded as business premises and therefore liable to business premises tenement rate payment? Why is the rate charged per BTS in the urban areas different from the rate applied for residential and commercial buildings when the infrastructure occupies the same land?”

Adebayo urged President Muhammadu Buhari to invoke his executive powers contained in the Cyber Crime Act 2015 to declare telecoms infrastructure as Critical National Security and Economic Infrastructure.

He said there is need for special protection for telcos’ infrastructure and operations because the telecom industry supports many other economic sectors whose operations and trade depend on its services.

“We are also in the first layer when it comes to critical technology service for enhanced safety and security. Unless we have first level of protection by government, it will be difficult to continue to provide uninterrupted services with the type of vulnerability of our members and their infrastructure,” he added.

He said quality of service (QoS) across the various networks has continued to record significant improvement since last year as carriers continue to invest in network elements to enhance good quality of services across the national network.

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