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Published On: Thu, May 8th, 2014

NCC: Unravelling the Last Mile

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NCC-logoBy Justin Eradiri

When the broadband masterplan was launched in 2012, the Nigerian Communications Commission declared its preparedness to propel the country to the next level of digital communications in pursuit of robust economic and technological advancement. The masterplan is a detailed road map for achieving the broadband revolution.

The last mile to that destination was boldly taken on February the 19th, 2014, when the license for the remaining 30 MGh frequency slot on the 2.3GHz spectrum band was given out to new entrants and winners of the bid, Bitflux Communications Limited in an auction.

Initially planned for two days, the exercise which held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, ended within hours. It was attended by the NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Eugene Juwah, Chairman of the NCC, Mr. Peter Igho, Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, Chief Okechukwu Itanyi, representatives from the Ministry of Communications Technology and other stakeholders.

By virtue of this license, Bitflux Communications Limited has been empowered to provide wholesale wireless access services. The company has 14 business days from the date of the provisional award (February 19, 2014) to pay the bid amount less the Initial Bid Deposit (IBD) of $2.3 million it already paid. If Bitflux fails to pay within the allotted time, it will lose the award, forfeit the IBD and the Commission will offer the license to Globacom at its losing bid of $23,050,001 million less the IBD it paid.

With the successful conclusion of the auction, the proposed unbundling of the country’s broadband infrastructure market aimed at meeting the Federal Government’s 80 percent broadband penetration target by 2017, has begun. It will be recalled that at the presentation of a paper titled: ‘Open Access Model for Next Generation Optic Fibre Broadband Network’, the NCC through its boss had declared that: “The commission will go on to auction the available 2.3GHz spectrum license to aid last mile wireless access on a wholesale basis, and the last-mile connectivity will be deployed using wireless and fibre optic broadband.”

Other steps towards achieving this goal have also been taken. On Monday, February 10, the Commission announced that slots of 25MHz bandwidth are available in the 3.5 GHz band in 27 states of the federation and the FCT. The frequency is to be licensed on a state-by-state basis, and interested stakeholders have been advised to submit applications. The states listed are: Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Zamfara, Taraba, Yobe and Sokoto.

Nigerians, the NCC, participants in the bid process, stakeholders and indeed everyone deserves to be congratulated. For the Commission in particular, it must have been a daunting task screening and prequalifying two bidders out of the total of 27 who had submitted expressions of interest. In Nigeria where regulators and operators come under pressure from subterranean interests, the NCC must have had a very raw deal.

One must also congratulate Bitflux Communications for getting the better of our second national carrier, Globacom, despite the latter having a whole decade’s experience and investment in Nigeria’s telecoms sector. Bitflux parted with a princely $23. 251 million (twenty-three million, two hundred and fifty-one thousand dollars), to outdo Globacom, which had offered $23.0501 million (twenty-three million, fifty thousand and one dollar).

It is now the responsibility of the licensee to unravel our imaginations with one-touch digital data services which we have yearned for in the past decade. The beauty of the entire process is that Globacom is on stand-by should the preferred bidder not pay up the license fee within the stipulated time. From the precedent set since 2001, license auctioning has become the preferred mode of allocating frequencies to interested investors in the telecoms market. Such is the quality of value addition and good regulation which the NCC has brought to bear on the sector.

Nigerians are waiting to upgrade to a full multimedia ICT platform, leveraging on the broadband to maximise the capacities of their smart phones and other devices in video streaming, internet radio, information download and upload, etc. Yes, we need that extra byte, that strength that speeds up our navigation and research on the web, that delivers us out of the callously slow, small and near unproductive byte allocations our GSM networks currently permit us.

It is worth stating here that for the purpose of transparency and fair competition, the NCC introduced a computer-based bidding approach it called the “Ascending Clock Auction”. The two competing firms were sequestered in separate rooms with no communication facilities until finally a winner emerged.

To the new licensee, one must say: welcome to the largest services market in Africa. But a word of advice: no effort should be spared to ensure efficient and affordable services. Once this is guaranteed, the market will be theirs for the taking regardless of who has been in the field because there is an umpire who ensures vigilance every inch of the way.

Eradiri writes from PortHarcourt.

 

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