Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari reappointed Professor Umar Garba Danbatta as the Executive Vice Chairman of the country’s telecoms regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
According to NCC, the reappointment was based on the recommendation of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami. The agency also added that Danbatta was reappointed to consolidate the recent gains made in the nation’s telecom sector.
With his reappointment, Danbata will continue to lead and execute of operations of NCC for the next five years.
NCC achievements under Danbatta
During his first tenure, the NCC boss achieved several milestones like the temporary licence the agency gave MTN to perform the first 5G demo in the country and implemented the Do-not-disturb rule to put an end to spam messages from telecom providers.
However, the Nigerian telecommunications sector is still riddled with several challenges that the NCC boss must look to resolve during his second tenure in office. Some of them are listed below
Before Danbattas appointment as NCC boss in 2015, Nigeria’s broadband penetration stood at about 10%. Five years later, Danbatta’s NCC has exponentially increased broadband penetration to about 39.9% with a subscription of more than 76 million.
Earlier in February, NCC announced a new national broadband plan after the 30% broadband penetration target which was set for 2018, was surpassed in 2019. The new plan sets the target at 70% broadband penetration and 90% 4G coverage by 2025.
Broadband penetration is the ratio between the number of subscribers and the total population in Nigeria.
However, broadband penetration in the country is still well short of the global average. According to the latest ranking by the Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, Nigeria ranks 108th out of 137 countries in mobile Internet download speed. The country also ranks 150 in fixed broadband speed out of 157 countries around the world.
Although there are several obstacles to the growth of broadband in the country, recent development like the FG declaration that all telecom infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) would be of great help as it means national security operatives will be deployed to protect telecom infrastructure as is done with oil pipelines.
Also, Right of Way (RoW) charges, one of the recurring obstacles that delayed earlier broadband targets are now being drastically reduced by state government across the country. For example, Anambra reduced theirs to ₦1 per metre while Kaduna ordered a total waiver.
The arrival of 5G in Nigeria
Since, the successful completion of the 5G technology test by MTN last year, the NCC has not really given a timeline as to when the technology will officially launch in Nigeria or whether there are plans hurry its deployment.
Earlier this year when conspiracy theories about 5G causing Covid-19 and generally being dangerous to peoples health emerged the social media, the agency released a statement to dispel the fear but also affirmed that there is no 5G in the country.
However, it’s uncertain if Danbatta will add launching 5G to his goal for his second tenure seeing as countries like South Korea, China, USA, Germany have already deployed the technology.
Quality of service of Telecom Operators
During his first tenure, Danbata did well in improving the quality of service to subscribers and checkmating telecom operators by repeatedly dealing out fines for various defaults. One of this was the NCC ₦2.7 billion fine on Airtel, Glo and 9mobile for forceful subscriptions.
However, there is still a whole lot more the agency can do to increase the quality of service Nigerians receive. In his second tenure, this is one of the areas Danbatta will be tasked with improving.
Quality of Internet services
Although broadband penetration is increasing, internet speed in the country can be sometimes slow and sometimes frustrating forcing subscribers to subscribe with multiple internet service providers just to stay connected.
One major problem is that the number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country has significantly reduced in the last 5 years. ISP’s include Smile, Spectranet and NTel which are quite different from MTN, Airtel who are generally considered Mobile Network Operators (MNO).
In 2018, out of the 219,117 connections made by 23 ISPs, only about 126,378 users were active on the Internet.
Currently, less than 10 of those 23 ISPs are functional with about 371,089 active subscribers according to NCC March 2020 statistics. The slow growth and short lifespan of ISPs have been blamed on so many factors but considerable support by regulators could go a long way in keeping ISPs afloat.
Driving Financial Inclusion using Telecom providers
Financial Inclusion in Nigeria got an incredible boost after the CBN granted some telcos Payment Service Banks (PSBs) and super-agent licences that gave them permission to perform banking services.
However, the super-agent license given to MTN and the PSBs awarded to 9mobile by the CBN only allows them to handle payment services and work with banks. This means that they are not really banks and there is an extent to the financial services they can perform.
Seeing as the introduction of banking into telecoms have been a big hit especially with the mobile money, Danbatta will have to face the challenge of helping the telecoms gain more opportunities to drive financial inclusion in the country.