Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Hazy Horizon!

Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, ALTON President flanked by two Association officials at a press conference in Lagos


“It is with considerable concern that we call this conference to draw your attention to several complaints received from some of our members on the practice by some state governments, local governments and other government agencies in the imposition of indiscriminate levies and charges on telecommunications operators and their operations within their localities”
 - Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, President, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria

There is no gain-saying the truth that since what is perceived as the liberalization of the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, business activities in the country have continued to receive unprecedented boost. The national economy appears to be more favoured by this new development. Between 2001 and now, Foreign Direct Investment in the country accruing from the ICT sector alone has hit well over $12billion. About seven years ago, it was a meagre $50million.
It is seven years since the introduction of GSM telecommunications services in Nigeria. Within this period, the country has witnessed a massive revolution of sort in the kind of services being offered in the telecommunications sector. And the excitement that follows this has remained overwhelming.
This is a departure from what it used to be before the liberalization and the subsequent launch of this global system of telecommunications service in the country. Today, Nigerians can avail themselves the opportunities offered by the various telecom operators doing business in the country.
That excitement however, may soon become a thing of the past if the recent threat coming from the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) is anything to go by. ALTON is not happy with what it sees as very bizarre and frustrating developments unfolding in the country's telecommunications sector.
Citing what it calls high cost of doing business fuelled by unending multiple taxation, various levies and hostility in parts of the country which have astronomically increased its members' overhead costs, the Association not long ago warned that telecom subscribers should be prepared to pay more for their services.
The Association specifically pointed out that harassment, threats to lives of its members and workers as well as various levies, including but not limited to road, right of way, environment, site entry permit, private power generation permit and levies by local council and hoodlums (area boys), among others, have become very unbearable for operators such that the only option left for them is to “increase our tariffs to enable us cushion the effects of the various payments at every level.”
ALTON observed that despite these recurring challenges, member operators of the Association have had to engage in infrastructure build out activities that are otherwise government responsibilities and involve huge capital cost, all in their desire to support government and provide efficient and affordable telecommunications services and improved quality of service for Nigerians.
It is rather unfortunate that we should be talking about increase in telephone tariff at this stage of our telecoms development when efforts should rather be pulled together in finding ways of reducing tariff and making telecommunication services available to the unserved and underserved areas of the country.
It smacks of cynicism and blatant display of ingratitude for our governments at various levels not to appreciate the harsh conditions under which telecom operators are doing business in this country. How do you reward an operator that provides alternative source of power supply for an average of 20hrs per day through the use of power generating set, for a minimum of two units per cell site in a country whose public power supply system has remained for ages now? How do you say thank you to an operator that in some cases, provide access road to its sites to allow for provision of services in localities where public infrastructure is virtually non-existent.
It is rather disheartening that instead of government burying its face in shame on account of its inability to live up to its social contract responsibility, it resorted to employing all manner of arbitrary and indiscriminate policies under the guise of charges, fines and levies, to undermine the patriotic efforts of the operators at improving quality of service that has for long been the challenge in the country.
From all indication, the horizon is getting hazy. And unless government and its agencies allow reason and wisdom to prevail, the country may yet, take some avoidable retrogressive steps in its telecom annals. As it stands now, even in spite of the huge profits they are posting on monthly basis, network operators are gradually being forced to close their cell sites, base stations and other telecom infrastructure owing to what ALTON alleges to be 'continuous extortion and high insecurity of lives and infrastructure.'
There is still room for the immediate resolution of this ‘landlord/tenant’ imbroglio especially in the Lagos area so as to nip this ominous signs in the bud. Already, ALTON appears to be holding out the olive branch going by what its President, Gbenga Adebayo told the media recently:
“Our members’ stance is predicated on the need to ensure that there is ample justification for applicable service charges, which should be structured to consider service provision cost in peculiar localities and to ensure that subscribers in law-abiding and co-operative areas are not made to suffer from the impact of increase cost of service provision foisted on network service providers in less friendly places.”
This issue should not be allowed to deteriorate further.

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