Chinenye Anuforo; Chiamaka Ajeamo
Mr. Gbenga Adebayo is the chairman of the Association of License Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the umbrella union for all providers of telecommunication services and infrastructure as well as others who support the industry. In this interview with Daily Sun Tech & Gadgets, Adebayo said ALTON was working to ensure the provision of reliable, robust and resilient national network and would need support from government to ensure sustainability. He also spoke on other issues affecting the telecoms industry.
Nothing has been done, nothing conclusive has been done, but it is a lot of work in progress. For example, we have the industry working rule on multiple taxation, which is a group consisting of members of the association, people from Nigeria’s telecommunication system and other stakeholders whose interest are for the progress and growth of the industry.
We are identifying the problem, and are talking around the problem and also engaging all stakeholders. By the last count, the industry suffers over 35 different taxes across the country. These include taxes that are both statutory and a lot of which are non-statutory. A lot of which are derivable only from an attempt by the state to generate internal revenue, that is why they call it internally generated revenue (IGR).
So, they are not statutory, they are not part of what is provided for in federal taxes. So, multiple taxation is a problem that is with us, it has been with us and as an industry we have identified it as a major impediment of growth. We have identified it as having the most severe impact on smooth operations of the industry because in an attempt to collect these taxes the agents of state government often embark on bad practices including going to seal up telecommunication sites in an attempt to forcefully collect these taxes and a number of times disrupting telecommunication services for the citizens. In my view, when you look at this issue of taxation and multiplicity of taxation, I think it is a misplaced collection of revenue from the wrong sources. In essence, I define multiple taxation as the number of those taxes that are misplaced. Government should look out for how to get revenue from the usage of sites than from those who provide the sites. That is why we are saying, allow for this development, when these services are available, people will use them and when it is available uninterrupted, users will use the services without grumbling. By this, they will be glad to pay those taxes, those taxes that are chargeable on the use of the sites.
Levy by CBN on all electronics transaction
As ALTON, we are looking at it. We have received information from our members as directed from the CBN. We are looking at it and we are not going to be quick to take a position on that until we have studied very clearly what are the probations, what are the reasons and the impacts of the 0.005 per cent usage of electronic transaction. So, we are looking at it, we are studying it and we are being careful to make any public statement without getting to know the details both on our members and at the appropriate time we will take a decision but for now, we are looking at it.
Absence of clear local content
We must enforce our local content laws not just in the telecommunication industry but in all sectors of the economy. What are the benefits of local content? The benefits are, you will be able to retain local knowledge; you are able to generate employment. The role of government is not in job creation, it is in making the environment conducive for job creation. So, government should spend more time in creating the right environment for those who can create jobs to create jobs than government spending it efforts and resources on job creation. On this issue of local content, if you have certain skills you find as local skills that can be provided by locals, it means those jobs when available will be available to Nigerians. When you do not have strong local content laws or the laws are weakly implemented as in our case in Nigeria, jobs that are meant for Nigerians will go to other countries. Meaning that employment opportunities that should be for our people here will be taken to other places. How will that happen? Services will be rendered off shore. Providers will render services off shore and they will only bring the front end of the service to this place, the back end which actually generates the large employment will be hosted off shore and so, it is important not just for reasons of knowledge retention but for reasons of job creation that we become strong in the implementation of our local content laws. It will help us retain knowledge and you know Nigerians are very knowledgeable, skilful, and very resourceful and it will help us create a local economy.
Quality of service
When you take an average on how stable the national network is, I think, on a scale of one to 100, we can rate ourselves as being over 90. I say so because, we have not had one day of telecommunication outage. That is number one and we must give it to the players. For that not to happen, it means it is round the clock service, people are working while we are sleeping. People are working round the clock to keep the networks alive and that is why the industry needs the support of everyone because, today, telecommunication has become and remains the most reliable functional public infrastructure that we have. I challenge you to say to me, which industry has the highest impact on the lives of people if not telecommunication. If you take a second layer of a sector that is performing and supporting the lives of people, the major driver of that sector is telecommunications. If we are not reliable, financial institutions will not depend on our industry to grow their business.
If our networks are not reliable, you will not be talking about financial inclusion because when you talk about financial inclusion, you are talking about access to banking services. I cannot say to you that there are no pockets of experiences of poor quality here and there but it is certainly due to some factors. We had one case of an outage somewhere; access was prevented to one critical site. This site because it was said to be in a secured location had connection to 56 other sites of a particular region of the country, access was prevented due to some dispute about rent payment to the owners of the facility and at the end of the day, when the generator powered down that hub site and other 56 sites connected to it went down simultaneously. This means by extension that, one cause of action 57 sites connecting several million of subscribers was out of service.
You will blame that experience on quality of service but we say the root cause of it was that site which access was prevented. So, these are the issues that lead sometimes to consumers experiences and we are saying that it is time for us to look at telecommunication assets, as critical national security and economic infrastructure and we must have that level of protection and security so that anyone impacting on telecommunications services will begin to pay the highest penalty that is applicable when people disrupt public services. That is what we are asking for. So, to bring the point home, we are not unaware of our responsibilities as an industry and as responsible corporate citizen who is committed to her national economy, we are doing our very best under every circumstances to ensure we have a reliable, robust and resilient national network. As an industry we are committed to that and we will continue to do so. We are only seeking for the support of the stakeholders, the government to support us, subscribers must support us as an industry and we must understand that it is one industry that is meant to serve all of us. So, accordingly it should be given the necessary security and protection it deserves.
Over-the-top service providers
Over-the-top services, which are called OTT, have come to stay. Inadvertently, they have become parts of our daily lives. So, it might be coming a little late in the day to start talking about preventing the use of those services. The fact is that OvOTT is here and will continue to be here. In the early days, the legacy operators regarded them as disruptive services or technology but today it has come to be the mainstream. Take away the ability of people to make voice calls and give them data, people will not complain but give them voice calls then take away data, they will complain. This is because of OTT services provided by telecommunication companies which today has turned out to be the mainstream. The concern, however, is our regulating services, whereas the telecommunication operators, the mainstream operators, have statutory license obligations, OTT does not have. Licensed telecommunication providers have statutory obligations including taxes, payment of taxes to government, collection of revenue on behalf of government and so on, OTT service providers, because they are not documented, do not have those kind of obligations. So, their technology as you may see whereas in certain regard is constructive because of their applications but look at its impact on the national economy, it is disrupting. I was saying and I am still saying again that, it is time our regulator begins to look at regulating services and not only technology like we have always done. They have said over and over in the past that their regulation is technology neutral, so whatever technology you deploy they are final but I am saying that, we should begin to look beyond technology variables because of the impacts of OTT on the mainstream.
Regulations might be coming a little late in the day because those services have moved far ahead of regulations but it is time to begin to look at how we can put them regulatory underlines for reasons of security, national security, regulations and taxation.
NCC’s 30% broadband penetration target
A lot of effort is being made in that regard and I must pay due respect to the efforts made by all stakeholders, regulators, the industry, renewing licenses and infrastructure company, everyone is committed to realising this. As I speak to you as the chairman of this association, we are all committed; all our members are committed to realising this goal at the end of 2018. However, we have our concerns; those are in key areas of disruption of network property, issues of right of way, multiple taxation, multiple regulations, forceful attempt of collection of internal revenue by agents of state government, these are now threats that we have that may not make that attempt be a reality. We are committed to it as an industry and all effort is made in that regard both in terms of network expansion, deployment, roll out, upgrade and optimisation and all.
The external threat that we have to realizing it seems to have more impact and if care is not taken, we might have some challenges in realizing that
goal. So, what I will say, particularly to our friends in government, they must allow the country to survive. Broadband is the way to go.
Any impediment around broadband penetration should be removed and it starts from grant of right of way, easy access to right of way, elimination of elements of site closure and stoppage of work done by
service providers and anything in line of impact on depluming telecommunication infrastructures should be eliminated.
We are intervening at the highest level. The industry is committed to resolving the problem and as an industry association; we are doing all we can to ensure that circumstances leading to it is dealt with. You know when you talk about cause and effect, the indebtedness is an effect of a certain causes of action. We have accepted that there is a problem to this indebtedness and we are now looking at issues leading to those indebtedness. Once we are able to identify the root causes of the problem, I think we will able to solve it. We have taken it as a problem and a problem known is a problem solved and as an industry, we are speaking with all the stakeholders.