InfraCos to face telcos challenges as industry awaits take-off

The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has projected that except there are interventions, new sets of challenges await the Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos).

Already, telecoms operators continue to battle numerous challenges including arbitrary charges, especially from state governments, Right of Way (RoW) issues, vandalism, theft, erratic electricity supply, poor access to foreign exchange, among others.

InfraCos are licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to provide Layer 1 (dark fibre) services on commercial basis; focus on the deployment of metropolitan fibre, and provide transmission services, available at access points (Fibre to the Node or Neighbourhood – FTTN) to access seekers across the country.

The telecoms industry is hopeful that after about six years that the country has been at it, there will be formal take-off of InfraCo operations in Nigeria this year.
The Guardian had reported that the NCC had licensed the following firms including; MainOne for Lagos; Zinox Technology Limited for South East, and Brinks Integrated Solutions Limited for North East. Others are O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West, Fleek Networks Limited for North-West, and Raeana Nigeria Limited for South-South zone.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbantta, in an interview, informed that the Commission has completed the process for the licensee for the North Central, but awaits ratification of the Federal Government.

Speaking with The Guardian, the Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, said the InfraCo issue is a bit sensitive somehow. Adebayo, an engineer, said as much as the industry awaits their take off, InfraCos will experience the same problems faced by the big telecoms operators.

“If you recall, we had said at the time that the problems that are faced by the main big operators, if those challenges are not resolved, if they are not taken away, InfraCos cannot solve those challenges. If major operators have not been able to weather the storm, I don’t see InfraCos being able.

“For instance, if the telcos cannot solve the problem of access, RoW, vandalism, power challenges, and the likes, no matter what name they (InfraCos) are called, they won’t be able to solve the problem, and this could hinder their service delivery,” Adebayo stated.

He said already, the InfraCos take-off has been difficult, especially the issue of RoW, because the country has not seen anything from that segment of the industry. Adebayo said the industry is however glad that NCC is looking at the entire InfraCos project again, “and we hope they will be able to identify what the issues are more than what I have said now, and be able to find a way around it. Those InfraCos have invested in licence, equipment, and people; so it is survival now! The problem, however, is the same issue faced by the early operators, but it is now more difficult for InfraCos to take off. If the roads are not cleared, InfraCos will struggle all through.”

Following some information gathered, The Guardian had reported in October 2020 of the possibility of the NCC licensing more InfraCos to expand broadband services in Nigeria.

Getting this done, the Commission will review the current InfraCos framework, and funding options to be made available. To this end, the NCC constituted a committee to review the framework and recommend sustainable funding options for effective implementation of the national fibre project.

The Commission, had, in a statement last year, signed by its Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ike Adinde, informed 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). These 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.

NCC said these requirements and reports related to the imperative of reviewing the InfraCo framework to cater to the delays in take-off, change in exchange rate, supply chain and other challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As at late 2020, the Committee set up by the Commission met with all licensed InfraCos as well as the preferred bidder for the North Central zone. The Guardian further gathered that the Commission may add more licensees, about 10, to the current ones, but this is still subject to approval of the Federal Government.

The Commission said it was working actively with the Broadband Implementation Steering Committee (BISC) as constituted by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, based on the recommendations and requirements of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP 2020-2025).

Further from the interview, Danbatta 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.

“We are keen on ensuring the project delivers maximum benefits for the economy at large and that is why the ongoing review is very critical to the overall success of the project in line with the new realities of the time.”

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