The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has identified infrastructure deployment by Telecommunication Operators as critical especially now that businesses and social communication is influenced and facilitated by internet connectivity occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic.
Prof. Umar Garba Dambatta, Executive Vice Chairman, EVC, of the NCC, in his remarks at the first-ever virtual edition of the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP) organised by the Commission in Abuja, noted that the theme of the event: “Impact of COVID-19 on Telecoms Service Delivery” is timely and could not have come at a better time than now.
Dambatta, remarked that the focus of the parliament also provide stakeholders with an opportunity to have a quick look at how the pandemic is impacting service delivery in the telecommunication industry, which currently provides the digital platform for the economy to remain afloat.
According to him, a report released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in May 2020, which examined the impact of the pandemic on the telecoms sector indicated that “COVID-19 virus has presented a stress test for Governments worldwide with the Internet playing a crucial role in keeping critical infrastructure and resources connected and available.
The report further noted that reliable, high-speed Internet is key to ensuring that hospitals and medical institutions have access to global information and resources necessary to fight the virus.
Broadband connectivity is also absolutely crucial for educational institutions and businesses to continue to provide essential services.
According to the report the unprecedented global health emergency is tasking mobile networks and digital platforms to the limit, with some telecom operators and platforms reporting demand spikes as high as 800 per cent since the outbreak of the pandemic in their respective countries.
According to the EVC , government in the wake of the outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria, announced different categories of lockdown which make the mobility and social life of citizens hindered, necessitating the need for individuals, businesses and public institutions to rely more on telecommunications to constantly keep in touch with their relatives, friends and more importantly, for running their daily economic activities.
Educational activities are also increasingly taking place online following the closing down of schools, while shopping and other activities have migrated online. With all these activities carried out through the internet, network usage is skyrocketing, with many network operators reporting large increase of data usage. Likewise, volume of voice calls is also increasing by the day.
“As we all are aware, telecoms is highly capital intensive and as such, continuous network upgrade and expansion are very key to operators’ ability to deliver top-notch QoS to their consumers.
“For instance, if operators are not able to expand or they are incapacitated to expand and upgrade their network in the face of spike in traffic, as occasioned by the pandemic, it will definitely have potential grave impact on Quality of Service delivery.” said Dambatta.
Continuing, he stressed that despite the pandemic and the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus, the Commission did not relent to ensure that the quality of telecom services was sustained during and post COVID–19 period.
Dambatta listed some of the critical steps taken by the Commission in conjunction with the supervising Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on service delivery by the network operators to include the development of e-platforms where all licensing requests, consumer complaints and base transceiver station (BTS) investigation requests are channeled and also provided designated e-mail addresses to be used for such requests throughout the pandemic period.
Similarly, the Commission approved and encouraged resource sharing among network operators.
These shared resources include fibre optics cables and ancillary resources, the aim is to ensure that there is no destruction to service provision in the event of fibre cut and related incidence.
In addition, the Commission also secured Right of Passage (RoP) for all telecommunications officials and staff for easy movement during the lockdown and movement restriction in order to be able to service their base stations and keep them active to provide services for telecom consumers who increasingly rely on their networks to work from home.
In the same vein, the Commission also secured Right of Passage for suppliers that are involved in supplies of fuels, food and other essential services to telecom operators during total lockdown.
With the intervention of the Hon. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, state governors are now aligning their Right of Way charges to N145 as approved by the Federal Economic Council (FEC), reducing below N145 per linear of fibre laid by the operators in their states, he said.
Also, other state governors pegged their RoW charges below the N145 set by the FEC while some state governors have totally waived RoW charges in their states. All these are aimed at encouraging network operators to deploy telecoms/broadband infrastructure faster in their states with a view to deepening digital access.
As COVID-19 evolves, a new world order where more activities are conducted online and robust broadband access is central is emerging, he said adding that in effect, most of the state governors have appreciated the centrality of robust broadband infrastructure as work-from-home measures by government persists.
Dambatta said that the Commission is hopeful that with the reduction in RoW, which will automatically result in reduction in capital expenditure (CAPEX) by the network operators, telecom companies will sooner or later reciprocate the gesture by making their services in particular, data services more affordable to Nigerians.
He recalled that one of the issues presented to the Minister when he assumed office is the need to strengthen telecom infrastructure protection.
The Minister he said quickly acted on this issue and speedily by obtaining presidential approval directing Security Agencies to protect ICT and telecom facilities as critical national assets.
This action has helped to safeguard telecom infrastructure for the greater role telecom has to play with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
He called on network operators to improve quality of experience of the consumers particularly as the country tried to navigate the disruptions caused by pandemic.
This call he said became imperative as the Commission and the supervisory ministry have left no stone unturned towards ensuring that telecom service providers provide good quality service despite the COVID-19 pandemic.