How NCC’s regulatory activities yielded success in 2020

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NCC

THE Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has made public its magic wand for the growth it recorded last year 2020, despite several challenges including the outbreak of coronavirus and the lockdown across the country.

According to the Public Affairs office of the organization, NCC had to create a new Strategic Management Plan, SMP, to drive digital economy.

In June 2020, the Nigeria’s telecom regulator, unveiled a new Strategic Management Plan, SMP, 2020-2024 as a pedestal to drive the implementation of the federal government’s digital economy vision. The launch of the SMP demonstrated the commission’s serious improvement in performance matrix and its efforts in accelerating the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, NDEPS, and the National Broadband Plan, NBP, 2020 – 2025 of the federal government.

The SMP, according to Prof. Danbatta, is the fulcrum that will aid the NCC in driving its telecom regulatory mandate in the fast-evolving telecoms industry, in the next five years. It will also serve as a roadmap for the future of the Nigerian telecoms sector, taking into consideration the current and emerging trends in the industry and the numerous expectations of the diverse stakeholders.

The SMP 2020 – 2024 is the visioning document of the commission for planning, monitoring, analysing, and assessment of the NCC in meeting its goals and set objectives. It has five pillars, which include regulatory excellence, universal broadband, promote development of digital economy, market development; and strategic partnering and 25 intended outcomes.  Five critical success factors identified for the implementation of the Strategy include: ownership and commitment, effective communication, human resource capacity, development of and adherence to a strategy development manual; and implementation discipline.

The NCC also adopted continuous driving of ICT innovations for growth and continued its commitment to investing millions of Naira to drive information and communications technology, ICT, innovations in the academia and while also supporting innovative ideas among young Nigerian tech innovators.

Aside several ICT innovation challenge and Hackathon programmes such as the Covid-19 Virtual Hackathon initiated and implemented by the Commission, the NCC, instituted and endowed two additional professorial chairs to the tune of N40 million in two more Nigerian universities.

The two universities, the premier University of Ibadan, Oyo State and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State, are endowed with N20 million each over the next two years to embark of massive research to promote innovation to drive socio-economic development in the country. This brings to four the number of tertiary institutions of learning that has benefitted from the NCC’s innovation-driving initiative, having endowed professorial chairs in Bayero University, Kano, BUK, and Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, in May 2019.

The organization last year 2020, continued to boost the federal government’s revenue generation and 2020 saw the total remittances by NCC into the federal government’s coffers increasing from 2015 and reached N344 billion in 2020. The revenue was essentially generated from spectrum sales, operating surplus and sanctions. So, aside spectrum auctions, NCC also engaged in spectrum re-planning, re-farming to optimise the usage of the scarce resource while it continued to address the quality of service, QoS, delivery through effective monitoring of Key Performance Indicators, KPIs, and development of KPIs for Third Generation, 3G, and Fourth Generation, 4G, networks. All these are in a bid to ensure improved service delivery to telecom consumers.

Interestingly, the commission has received commendation on this financial performance from the House Committee on Telecommunications, who visited it on an oversight function in October 2020. The committee commended the leadership of the commission for its transparency in ensuring remittances to  federal government’s CRF, considering the current revenue drive of the government. The committee urged the NCC to sustain its current template of ensuring effective regulation of the telecoms sector in a manner that would be more mutually beneficial to the industry players, the consumers of telecoms services and to the Nigerian government.

In line with its commitment to always put Nigeria’s telecoms sector ahead of cutting-edge technologies that can revolutionise consumer experience, the Commission granted approval for two mobile network operators, MNOs, MTN Nigeria and 9Mobile, to carry out trial on the workability of embedded Subscriber Identification Modules, e-SIM, Service in Nigeria.

The trial, approved to run for a period of one year, will involve testing 5,000 e-SIMs by the two networks, subject to compliance with a number of regulatory conditions. According to Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, executive vice chairman of NCC,  the primary objective of the e-SIM trial is to assess the technical performance of the e-SIM on telecoms service providers’ network towards eventual rollout, if satisfactory.

He said the e-SIMs is a technology that will eliminate the need for physical SIM card slots on mobile devices in the near future, adding that the trial is in line with the commission’s forward-looking regulatory approach to ensure Nigeria’s telecoms ecosystem is in tandem with global best practices.

Similarly, the commission also granted approval for MTN and 9mobile trial on national roaming service for a period of three months, commencing from October 14, 2020, to end by January 13, 2021.

The two telcos are expected to configure their networks to begin test and simulation for customer experience. The trial approval covers a few local governments, designated as the national roaming geographic area in Ondo State. Basically, roaming service will enable a mobile subscriber in Nigeria to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services when travelling outside a particular network geographical area by utilising the network coverage of other networks with roaming arrangements to access service.

According to Danbatta, the primary objective of the national roaming service trial is to encourage network resource sharing among operators. It will also lead to operational expenditure, OPEX, optimisation and capital expenditure, CAPEX, efficiencies leading to freeing up of resources to expand mobile network coverage to unserved and underserved communities across the country, which will lead to improved quality of service, QoS, delivery to subscribers.

NCC also began a strategic review of InfraCo framework and their funding options. To this end, the commission constituted a committee to review the framework for the licensing of Infrastructure Companies, InfraCo, and recommend sustainable funding options for effective implementation of the proposed national fibre project. It should be noted that the constitution of the committee was sequel to the requirements of the new Nigerian National Broadband Plan, NNBP, 2020-2025 and reports of relevant committees set up by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, which include the Inter-Ministerial Review Committee on Multiple Taxation on Telecommunications Operators over Right-of-Way, RoW, and the Technical Sub-Committee on Right-of-Way for Deepening Broadband Penetration in Nigeria.

These requirements relate to the imperative of reviewing the InfraCo framework to cater for the delays in take-off, change in exchange rate, supply chain and other challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Commenting on this, the EVC said, “The InfraCo project is dear to the government because of its ability to enhance robust and pervasive broadband infrastructure to drive service availability, accessibility and affordability.

But all the above wouldn’t have been possible, without a continuous commitment to regulatory excellence, transparency and ethical standards.

The NCC is said to have been ranked highest in terms of compliance to ethics and integrity among other sister agencies under the federal ministry of communications and digital economy. The outstanding performance of NCC was contained in the recently released Ethics Compliance and Integrity Scorecard, ECIS, 2020 by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission’s, ICPC. With a total score of 81.15 per cent, the commission topped the list among three other agencies under the ministry, which featured in the intra-ministerial agencies’ ranking in ethics compliance and institutional integrity.

The National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, emerged second with a total score of 74.05 percent; Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited, NIGCOMSAT, came third  with a score of 31.9 per cent while the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, occupied the fourth position with 17.65 per cent.

The report underscores NCC’s critical role as a member of the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit, ACTU, which is the federal government’s vanguard for promoting ethics and ensuring compliance to ethical codes within the Nigerian public sector.

The ranking by ICPC, in addition to demonstrating NCC’s commitment to the orderly growth and development of the Nigerian telecommunications industry, underscores the commission’s strategic role as a key enabler of positive change within Nigeria’s socio-economic landscape.

In addition to the above, the ICPC on Thursday, December 10, 2020, in Abuja, inaugurated the NCC’s Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit, ACTU. ACTU is the initiative of the ICPC, approved by the federal government to serve as an in-house mechanism for corruption prevention within MDAs, in line with global best practices of building strong institutions and institutionalising good governance in the fight against corruption.

During the inauguration, Danbatta noted that that the ICPC itself has recently attested to the NCC’s high ethical values and professionalism as evident in the 2020 ICPC Ethics and Compliance Scorecard, IECS, report, where NCC topped other agencies in ratings. The EVC said the ICPC’s verdict also lends credence to the 2017 report of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms, BPSR,-piloted Self-Assessment Tool, SAT, deployed in MDAs, where the NCC came off with a Platinum Level (Exceptional) award that NCC was a level 5 (Platinum standard) organization, the highest rating possible under the BPSR Assessment.

NCC also developed MVNO framework for increased telecom access in 2020. The commission developed a consultation on Mobile Virtual Network Operator, MVNO, Licensing Framework, essentially to bring another segment of industry players who will rely on existing operators’ network to offer services to Nigerians in the rural, remote, unserved and underserved areas of the country.

The MVNO framework is another initiative by the commission to improve access and connectivity and it is based on NCC’s determination to introduce MVNOs’ services within the telecommunications market of the country. In pursuit of this, the commission is to obtain comments from industry stakeholders and the general public on key considerations, which will be used to formulate a sustainable and efficient MVNO licensing framework, as well as a highly conducive regulatory regime that facilitates growth and development in the telecoms space, through competitive and differentiated services offered by these virtual operators.

The document, which has already been uploaded on the commission’s website on December 10, and inputs from stakeholders on the MVNO document is expected to be obtained from members of the public within 21 days of the upload of the document on the commission’s website. According to executive vice chairman of NCC, upon closure of this period, the commission will engage in deliberation sessions in an expedited manner to finalize its decisions about MVNO introduction in the market. A consultation report will then be generated and published to the public to create awareness of the commissions decisions.

he commission further noted that the consultation paper is in line with processes stipulated in the consultation guidelines put forward by the NCC in 2007. The commission expected all comments received to be considered before making a final decision, although the commission may decline to use or consider anonymous responses. Comments and responses submitted are deemed independent from its respondent’s relationship with the NCC.

It leveraged its social media platforms and other legacy media to sensitise consumers of telecom services who are dissatisfied with services rendered to them by any of the service providers on the procedures for lodging their complaints to the commission. They were continuously sensitised on their right to seek redress of any service-related issue by reporting to NCC after they would have reported to their respective service providers and are still not satisfied with the responses.

The NCC has continued with its continuous consultation on planned 5G technology deployment following the misinformation, miscommunication, misunderstanding and misconception that greeted the trial of 5G by the NCC in 2019. In 2020, it began a deliberate regulatory measure by developing a Draft Consultation Document on the Deployment of Fifth Generation, 5G, Mobile Technology in Nigeria. The document defines the implementation plan for the deployment of 5G in Nigeria. It provides a background into the benefits of 5G technology and outlines the commission’s plans and strategies for a successful implementation of 5G in Nigeria and clearly presents guidelines for the relevant areas of the technology and the expectations of the commission from the operators. This plan takes into account the expectations of all the stakeholders in the communications industry in Nigeria.

Nigeria undertook 5G trials in selected locations within the country in collaboration with an operator in 2019. The trial, among others, was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present and Danbatta, has clearly stated that: “For the avoidance of doubt, as with the previous technologies such as 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G, the commission will not commence 5G deployment without due consultation with all relevant stakeholders.”

The commission has been working with mobile network operators, MNOs, with other agencies such as the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, in line with federal government’s directive, through  Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, minister of communications and digital economy, for telecoms subscribers to link their National Identification Number, NINs, with the SIM database with a view to addressing SIM-related crimes.

In the year under review, spirited regulatory efforts were made by the commission  to remove improperly-registered SIMs from the networks and a number of arrest  and convictions of fraudulently-registered SIM registration by ‘operators agents’ were also made  to serve as deterrent to others who may be engaging in improperly-registered SIM cards, which is a criminal offence in the country and a  threat to national security. The commission also sensitized the consumers on this menace and encouraged them to stop the sale, purchase and use of pre-registered SIM cards as it constitutes a punishable offence under the law.

According to NCC, the use of pre-registered SIM cards gives cover for unwholesome activities like kidnapping, call masking, threat to lives, bullying, armed robbery, identity theft financial crimes and SIM swap fraud, among others. Closely related to this was the massive cybercrime sensitization that the commission embarked on since the beginning of the year, culminating in a more widespread social media campaign in the month of October, with greater emphasis by the commission on child online protection, considering the fact that most children now take Internet-based learning and educational instructions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions and the need to protect them online was taken as a priority for the commission as the regulator of the industry.

Counting benefits of MNOs listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the Commission, in the course of the year, highlighted the huge benefits which its regulatory action of facilitating the listing of MTN Nigeria and other operators such as Airtel in the country’s stock exchange market in terms of economic gains to Nigeria and Nigerians, especially in the areas of boosting market capitalisation and yielding dividends to shareholders.

Market analysts report that MTN investors, alone, have raked in approximately N1 trillion in price appreciation and dividends since April 2020. The listing of MTN was as a result of NCC’s effective regulatory action taken during the mobile network operator’s fine settlement agreement in 2016, which compelled the telco to, among other things, list on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE. The listing was one of the outcomes of the NCC’s stringent regulatory posture, which served as tonic for other telcos such as Airtel to follow the same direction.

The commission in 2020, lifted the suspension on the Spectrum Trading Guidelines, STG, 2018, pending the conclusion of the ongoing review of the Guidelines. The lifting of the suspension followed deliberations on the subject by the Board of NCC at its special board meeting, which held on Wednesday, September 16, 2020. The meeting was preceded by the suspension of the STG by the board at its 96th meeting held in May 18, 2020. “The Board was satisfied that, given the state of the consultation, it was possible to lift the suspension of the STG pending the conclusion of the review,” NCC said in a public notice in October 2020.

On May 27, 2020, the commission announced the suspension of STG 2018 for the Nigerian telecommunications industry and informed all licensed telecoms operators, prospective investors, industry stakeholders and the general public of the regulatory decision. The board of NCC had earlier taken the decision for spectrum trading in response to telecommunications global dynamics, as well as the efforts to optimally utilise and maximise the benefits of spectrum as a scarce resource. Spectrum is a limited resource, which, when inefficiently utilised, greatly limits broadband coverage and speed. The current Spectrum Trading Guidelines were developed in 2018 after industry-wide consultations and this instrument allows that the Spectrum resource be traded on the Secondary Market through Transfer, Sharing or Leasing, TSL, upon satisfying stipulated regulatory conditions.

According to the commission, the Nigerian National Broadband Plan, NNBP, 2020-2025 launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, in March 2020, requires that these Guidelines be reviewed to ensure that unutilised Spectrum is fairly traded to facilitate rollout by other operators amongst others. The guidelines will also help to address the need for ubiquitous broadband deployment to accelerate penetration and access in line with the economic agenda of the federal government.

In September last year, the commission embarked on a cost-based study to set the new pricing regime for mobile international termination rate, ITR, for inbound international voice calls in the country. The ITR is the rate paid to local operators by international operators to terminate calls in Nigeria.

As part of the process for the rate determination, the commission organised a virtual stakeholder engagement forum with relevant industry stakeholders to intimate them with the ongoing cost-based study and the need to cooperate with Messer’s Payday Advance and Support Services Limited, the consultants engaged to carry out the study. Addressing the stakeholders in Abuja recently, Danbatta, said the study became imperative following the various implementation constraints arising from contending industry and market dynamics that met previous efforts at finding an optimum price for the termination of international voice services in Nigeria. Through the new ITR pricing, the commission will be able to balance the competing objectives of economic efficiency and allow operators the latitude to generate reasonable revenue.

Additionally, the commission, in furtherance of its mandate to protect the interests of consumers and support a robust telecommunications sector, revised its Determination on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, USSD, pricing earlier published on the 23rd of July, 2019 and suspended by the federal government at the wake of its implementation by the operators. The amendment was necessitated following a protracted dispute between Mobile Network Operators and Financial Institutions on the applicable charges for USSD services and the method of billing. As a responsive and effective regulatory authority, the commission recognises that its policies are not static and may be modified from time to time as circumstances demand. The NCC has, therefore, determined that Mobile Network Operators must not charge the consumers directly for the use of USSD channels for financial services in the form of end-user-billing. The transaction should be between the MNOs and the entity to which the service is provided (i.e. Banks and Financial Institutions).

The NCC, last year, also commenced the implementation of the Accounting Separation Framework, ASF, in the Nigerian telecoms industry effective from July 15, 2020. The policy document, “Determination on the Implementation of an Accounting Separation Framework for the Nigerian Telecoms Industry”, which was developed via a consultative process in 2015, has undergone a comprehensive review by the regulator in collaboration with telecoms licensees and other critical industry stakeholders. The implementation will commence with six licensees including Airtel Nigeria, MTN Nigeria, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Limited (9Mobile), Globacom Nigeria, Main One Cable Company Limited and IHS Nigeria. According to Danbatta, the commission considers the Accounting Separation Framework “as an effective, least evasive and less costly solution to implement to meet its regulatory objectives”, adding that the implementation of the framework is also a key deliverable for the commission in the new National Broadband Plan, NBP, 2020-2025.”

In continuation of its renewed strategy and vigour for effective delivery of its regulatory mandate, the NCC, in July 2020, created a Digital Economy Department, principally responsible for implementing programmes and policies aimed at fully supporting and promoting the national digital economy agenda of the federal government. The creation of the new department is in line with its strategy to create a dedicated team with the sole responsibility of giving necessary push to the promotion of digital economy vision of the Federal Government. According to Prof. Danbatta, “placing the newly-created department under the Office of the EVC also underscores the importance the commission places on the need to successfully drive the overall national digital economy strategy of the government through ensuring its effective monitoring and supervision.” In addition to working with the eight pillars of the National Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) document, the Broadband Implementation Unit in the Commission, hitherto placed under the Special Duties Department and all the staff of the Unit, are to move to the newly-created Digital Economy Department.

Already, Babagana Digima, assistant director in the Special Duties Department, has been moved and designated as the pioneer head of the new department. The NDEPS, as a national policy document, was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2019, to add the needed impetus to the actualisation of the federal government’s Economy Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP.

In line with its inter-agency collaboration, the NCC has signed a memorandum of understanding, MoU, with the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, in May 2020, to ensure the tax agency ascertain accuracy and completeness of value added tax, VAT, elements and other taxes payable in the transactions of telecoms operators.

With the MoU, the FIRS will be able to integrate an application programming interface, API, technology solution with the systems of telecom operators for independent verification of the amount of VAT that should be paid by mobile network operators, MNO, rather than relying entirely on the Operators’ books of accounts. The MoU with FIRS joined a long list of other organisations both in the public and private sectors which the NCC has collaborated with towards ensuring regulatory excellence, since telecoms percolates all the spheres of our society.

And all the innovations that drove the growth of last year, were also not unnoticed as the gallery of awards that went the way of NCC and its EVC last year, no doubt, have been a testament to the recognitions of the excellent leadership ethos that are driving effective industry regulation at NCC.

The highest of which is Zik Prize won by Danbatta in the professional leadership category. The prestigious award, which was presented to the EVC at an elaborate and well-attended annual Zik Prize 2020 organised by Public Policy Research and Analysis Centre, PPRAC, in Lagos, on Sunday, December 6, 2020, was in recognition of Danbatta’s excellence regulatory finesse, which has resulted in accelerated growth of the industry since 2015. Other awards received in the course of the year include: the International Public Relations Association, IPRA, Golden World Awards, GWA, 2020 won by the commission for its harmonized emergency number, 112 and the construction of Emergency Communications Centers, ECCs, in 36 states of the Federation and the FCT with 19 states already operational and additional five ready for activation.

At the Security and Emergency Management Award, SAEMA, 2020, the NCC was declared Winner of ‘Emergency Management Security and Emergency Management Award and was additionally presented with a Certificate of Excellence for ‘Outstanding Accomplishments in Category of Emergency Management’ at the award.

Also, at the Nigeria Tech Innovation and Telecoms Awards, NTITA,, which held in November 2020, Danbatta was honoured with the “Broadband Oxygenator of the Year” for his remarkable role and commitment to the development of broadband infrastructure to support the country’s digital economy drive while NCC, as a corporate organisation received the “Outstanding Contribution to Driving Greater Broadband Penetration Award of the Year.”

Earlier, in August 2020, two awards, ‘Human Rights Telecoms Defender’ for the EVC and ‘Human Rights Guard’ for the Commission, as a corporate entity, were presented by Wheel of Hope Human Rights Foundation, WHHRF, a frontline Nigerian Non-Governmental Organisation while the ‘Icon of a Greater Nigeria’ was also presented to the EVC by the Youth Coalition Against Corruption, YOCAC, a coalition of Nigerian youths from all walks of life. Coincidentally, WHHRF and YOCAC adduced similar reasons for finding the EVC and Commission deserving of the recognitions: for keeping Nigerians seamlessly connected in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, in September 2020, the National Association of State Assembly Legislators, NASAL, has in September 2020, honoured Danbatta with a “National Service Excellence Award” for his transformational leadership in deepening access to telecommunications services across state constituencies of Nigeria in the last five years.

The award winning spree in year 2020, has been attributed by many industry stakeholders, the academia and traditional rulers in the country as a testament to the quality of leadership the NCC enjoys.

– Jan. 12, 2020 @ 13:20 GMT |

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