The Director of Public Affairs Nigerian Communications Commission, Mr Tony Ojobo is a great enthusiast of the communication and technology in Nigeria. The University of Lagos Masters holder in Public Administration has shown his prowess in handling the highly dynamic regulatory body. In this interview with MOBILEWORLD Ojobo speaks on sanctions, number portability, broadband initiatives and the Digital Bridge Institute. Excerpts
For some time there has been downward review of Key Performance indicators KPIS of the GSM operators in the country. In any way could, the recent audit for these telecoms be positive?
Positive audit would probably come very soon. You will recall that, there was a sanction sometime in June, of 2012 and after the sanction the NCC insisted that the fines had to be paid. The fines were paid eventually. However, before the service providers paid the fines, they sought to have a meeting with the commission to agree what the Key Performance Indicators would be. They were of the view that some of the parameters used, were higher than similar ones used developing countries that had the kind of challenges we have like the issues of power and vandalisation. The Commission resolved to review some of the KPIs and also informed the telecom companies that we needed to see progressive improvement in quality of service as provided in the guidelines. . By December 2012 the Commission is going to conduct another test to measure KPIs to see if they have been met. If any service provider is now found wanting at the end of December it will be sanctioned.
What is NCC doing to alleviate the pains of GSM operators regarding security and infrastructural challenges?
NCC is not a security agency and our regulatory oversight does not include protection of infrastructure, but what we had done was working with our committees in the National Assembly, the Senate Committee on Communication and the House Committee on Communication. We have had a number of conferences addressing these issues and of course as you are aware, as we speak the Critical Infrastructure Bill is in the National Assembly. So what we have done is to make our input into the national infrastructure Bill which is with the National Assembly. We have made our position known in that Bill and we have made our recommendations. So as a regulator, what we have done is working through the law, through the National Assembly to have a law that will protect the telecom infrastructure. That is exactly the role that we have played as a regulator. But in terms of protection, we don’t have the authority to protect the infrastructure; our mandate doesn’t cover the protection of infrastructure.
The recent ban on operator’s promos by the Commission was received by subscribers and operators with mixed feelings. What was the reason behind this action?
Sometime this year, we had signed an MOU with the National Lotteries Regulatory Commission and that MOU has specified a kind of guideline for lotteries. Some of the key provisions of the guideline are things such as; the promotions will not be such that will affect the quality of service. Any lottery that is going to be run on any of the telecommunication networks must be such that the service providers will have to make adequate provision to take additional traffic that could be generated. Any lottery that is going to be run on any of the telecoms network must be such that will not disturb the quality of service. In a case where the quality of service will be affected the commission would want such promos withdrawn. But you will agree with me that when some of these promotions came into play, it really generated a lot of traffic. We had some promos that will require subscribers to exhaust their credit within a specified period of time or lose the credit. So what that did was that, it generated a huge traffic from the network. There are of course calls that could be left for another day but we had situations that people wanted to make sure that they exhaust the credit. Now, because everyone was calling, there was congestion and some of those people couldn’t get to make calls, and we began to get lots of complains on this. You will also notice that since the ban on the promos, there has been at least a noticeable improvement across networks. Those days you will make calls but you wouldn’t be able to connect but now you can dial a number once, maybe twice and you are through. It really goes to show that some of those congested networks were as a result of those promos. We are not saying that promo is bad, but the point is this, if you are going to run any promotion on your network, then dimension your network in such a way that it can take additional traffic that is generated. This means that there is need for infrastructure to be dimensioned in such a way that should take the additional traffic generated from promos or from lotteries. Another reason why we had to step in was that we believe that there was a need for discipline across all networks. What that meant is this; that promos will have to be well thought after. The implications and consequences of promos should be taken into consideration. In other words, you can’t just come up with promos without ensuring that adequate care has been taken. In the event that, the infrastructure that is on ground cannot cope with what we are doing. Then the promo should not be run. Of course that is also happening because probably we have not commenced with our Number Portability Regime.
The number portability is successful in the nearby Ghana. How soon will the number portability take off in Nigeria What gains should subscribers expect?
Number portability has gone far, and as we speak the NMPO, Number Portability Operator is finalizing its installation of equipment. There is integration going on between the data centre where you have all the SIM cards captured and the number portability equipment service provider. Routing numbers have also been given out to service providers. Now routing numbers are numbers that will facilitate porting across networks to at least make it seamless and smooth when you are porting from one network to another network. We have gotten indications from service providers that they are ready to go with this development. Testing of the Mobile Number Portability operation and processes will commence in December 2012 and this will go on for a month. Then after the testing, all the identified gaps are addressed so that when we take off, we wouldn’t have to be contending with challenges. Once that is done the services will commence, in the first quarter of 2013. The benefits are; there will be accountability on the part of the networks to the consumers. There will be billing integrity, because if someone thinks they are being short changed, they want to move. The service providers will be responsive to the demands and requests of the subscribers on their network. Competition will deepen. In other words, it is then that we are going to see the real competition, because no network now has an exclusive preserve of numbers, I can move my number to any network. Another thing that is going to happen is that you are going to have excellent customer care service .As consumers will no longer be taken for a ride. This time around, we are to see to the promptness in attending to consumers complaints, so we are probably going to have more customer service centres where consumers can go to have their complaints addressed. Also, we are going to see an improvement in consumer experience across networks as no network will be willing to lose numbers to another network. So what we see is that people will want to keep what they have. Because there is going to be deepened competition, most likely the prices may drop further down, so we believe that it will be the best of time for the consumers where actually you see that the consumer really have become the king. One other very important thing is the power of choice in the hand of the consumers because choice is very powerful. Those are some of the things we believe will be of benefits to the consumers.
The NCC broadband initiatives were well represented at the recently concluded ITU in Dubai, what are the gains of the conference and what steps is NCC taking to sustain the implementation?
Of course the outing in Dubai was good, Nigeria showcased its broadband potentials because really what we went there to do was to let the investing countries know exactly the opportunities that we have, also what we have done and the opportunities that we have for broadband in Nigeria. Some key important things that happened was that the Vice President, after he had listened to presentation by the United Arab Emirates, where they indicated that Dubai is one of the most connected cities in the world and because of this has been able to generate 60 billion dollars annually . The Minister of Communications and Technology Mrs Omobola Johnson made some presentation and talked about the challenges that we have had in implementing broadband in Nigeria. Such issues like multiple taxation and Right of subway have been impediments in getting the best of broadband in Nigeria. Before now it will take about six to nine months to get approval to where to dig the ground but there was a joint committee of the Ministry of Communication and Technology and Works. They reached an agreement and now it has come down to 30 days for approval. Fortunately Nigeria delegations were duly informed by presentations in Dubai that broadband is synonymous to development. The governors were there and it helped us to make a case for the issue of broadband.
Still on competition, do you think Nigeria still needs two or more operators to allow these tariffs to come down and like you said, give subscribers well deserved choices?
It is not the number of operators that is determining the price. The operators you are bringing, do you have frequency for them? We have already exhausted all the GSM frequencies; there is no GSM frequency that is left now, unless you are talking about operators that are coming to operate under another platform. Now, what determines whether we are going to have an operator or not is the availability of frequency. The frequency that the commission is looking at now is the frequency that will come from digital dividends which will enable us roll out broadband services and that would be in 2015. Some other frequencies come based on ITU policies and programmes. From time to time, certain frequencies are designated by ITU for certain services in certain regions. So you could have situations where such happens and then of course the commission wouldn’t hesitate to do the needful. We believe that we have a good number of service providers in the country to ginger competition. You also need to have the service providers and give out frequencies that can economically care for the service providers because it has to be attractive for attract anyone to bid in an auction. That auction must be attractive; there must be some value in that auction for anyone to bid for it.
What is the state of the Digital Bridge Institute at Oshodi?
The head office is here in Abuja. Oshodi is one of the campuses and there are other campuses like in Kano, in Abuja. There are also learning centres that are coming up, we would have in Enugu, Asaba and in Yola. DBI are also in collaboration with a number of institutions in terms of partnership like Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Metropolitan University in UK and George Mason University in USA. We are also partners with some universities in Nigeria, and these are University of Nigeria Nsukka and University of Jos and several other Nigerian universities. The Institute has been providing capacity buildings for professors and lecturers; they keep updating them, with relevant ICT skills. DBI is also in partnership with Nollywood in terms of assisting them in area of film production that will have the necessary encryption that will guard against copyright.DBI also runs some training programs for the government, permanent secretaries at the Federal level, State government, providing building capacity.