#ATCON, lawyer urge NCC to protect small operators


The Nigerian Communications Commission has been urged to do more to protect small telecommunication companies as regards issues surrounding interconnect fees and disconnection.

Interconnect fee is the price that telecommunications operators pay each other for calls terminating on their networks.

A telecommunications lawyer, Mr Ayoola Oke, who made a case for increased protection for operators in the telecommunications industry, said the issues must be addressed to enable them to thrive.

Oke said this in an interview with journalists on Friday at a press briefing discussing the outcome of the annual workshop for judges the NCC in conjunction with the National Judicial Institute held recently in Abuja.

He said, “The NCC must protect small operators. Nigerian companies are the small operators; is enough done to protect them? Most times, Mobile network operators just disconnect them and the NCC is slow to respond. And in the course of this delay, they die.

“It is what happened to the likes of Multilinks, although they had their issues too. Many of them were trying to run one-man shows, and spend money anyhow. And some of the things they wanted from the NCC were not attainable; they just wanted the NCC to tell MTN to move out of the way. It can’t be done that way.”

Oke said since the small players were indigenous companies, they had the greatest room for growth in the market.

He said, “They are the ones likely to give their customers a better deal. That is why they should be protected. It is the small companies that are more likely to employ mainly local employees. They won’t go abroad to bring any expatriates; they use local players. They are home-grown companies, and are likely to grow from Nigeria and move into other countries.

“Small companies keep the big companies on their toes. They are smaller; they tackle the niche market. They are the ones likely to go to rural areas. Now, there is a situation where big companies bully these companies through inter-connection, forgetting that when they were small, the NCC had to hold the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited down and insist that they interconnect with them.”

According to Oke, all over the world, when the private sector is allowed to come into telecommunications, this issue of interconnection persists.

He said, “The incumbent operator is always reluctant to interconnect; it always takes the regulator to ensure that they interconnect.

“So, the same thing happened when MTN came on the scene; NITEL didn’t want to interconnect. It took the NCC to force them, and the fact that the government stood behind the NCC. It was why people could buy MTN phones; otherwise, if they didn’t allow them to interconnect, everyone would have stayed on NITEL.

“A lot of big operators today are now playing games around interconnection and trying to kill small companies.”

The President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Ikechukwu Nnamani, said the NCC had put a process and policy in place to handle interconnect fees and the interconnect process.

He said, “Any operator that has been cut off without the NCC’s approval should write to the NCC; the legal department of NCC does not play with that. If there is any case like that, the affected operator should immediately report to the NCC and it will be handled. I am certain of that process.

“There is a process, and the reason for that process is to achieve three things. One is to prevent frivolous accusations, and the NCC cannot act until they’ve heard from the other party. It is only fair and logical that when a complaint is made, the NCC has to investigate and call parties to present their cases.

“If there are issues around the timeline for the process, I am sure it should be addressed to the NCC and they will do something about it. But there is a process, and the process is to ensure that there is enough time for parties to be able to respond, so that judgement is accurate. If people are concerned about the timeline, it should be formally reported to the NCC.”



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