Two major telecom operators in the country, 9Mobile and Barti Airtel, Monday publicly opposed the proposed transfer of operating licence and resources, including 800MHz spectrum, from Visafone Communication limited to MTN Nigeria.
The duo raised the objection at a public hearing organized by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, at its headquarters in Abuja.
Responding to the proposal, Mr. Chidozie Arinze, the Head of Regulatory Affairs, 9Mobile, said spectrum remained a scarce national resource available in limited quantity and, as such could not be leased to only MTN as an operator to the detriment of other operators that do not have similar spectrum in their possession.
Arinze argued that the 800MHz spectrum from Visafone must be managed more efficiently and not be given to one operator because it had money.
According to him, this is not to create room for wider dominance of the market by MTN, and that if MTN is allowed to monopolise 4G, it can be priced anyhow.
He said, ‘‘It is like giving all Nigerian oil wells to one individual. The 800MHz spectrum is good for 4G operation and every operator wants to deploy 4G. If MTN is allowed to monopolise 4G, it can be priced anyhow.
“‘MTN has 4G spectrum already and it wants to get this, in essence, it will be controlling 50 per cent of the available spectrum in Nigeria.
‘‘This is not done in line with the extant guidelines. It prohibits s control of facility that cannot be replicated by competitors. If they get this spectrum, the competitors don’t have similar spectrum and cannot have access to it.”
According to him, the matter is already being challenged legally by 9Mobile since 2015, and that the continuation of the outcome of the public hearing may end up as a prejudice.
Arinze further noted that MTN had earlier opposed similar acquisition in South Africa and queried the justification of its bid to replicate what it rejected in Nigeria?
He said, ‘‘It might be an issue with court processes if this hearing is conducted. However, it is important that Nigerians understand that MTN fought similar transaction in their country.
‘‘If that acquisition is not good for South Africa, why is it good for Nigeria? Spectrum is the same all over the world and in UK the regulator places a cap on the amount of spectrum an operator can buy. We expect same thing in Nigeria because it is a worldwide phenomenon not peculiar to Nigeria.’’
He said the best way to achieve penetration was through competition as replicated in voice and data tariffs regime.
‘‘What we propose is that this spectrum is very valuable, it belongs to Nigeria. The commission must take the best interest of this country and the subscribers in assigning this spectrum.
‘‘We propose that the same thing that was done in SA should be done here. The spectrum should not be left to MTN alone but be made available to all operators in a cost effective manner in any approaches the Commission deemed necessary,” he added.
On his part, Lucky Ubani, Airtel Representative, urged the NCC not to allow MTN acquire the spectrum, noting that such a move would extend its market dominance beyond voice segment, which he said could spell doom for the industry.
He warned that care should be taken not to create another monopoly in the market and urged the regulator to come up with measures that would enable other top operators operate alongside MTN.
He said: ‘‘In India there is a specific cap to which a single operator should acquire spectrum order wise there will be a huge disadvantage.
‘‘The Commission should replan the GH spectrum bands with the National Spectrum management Commission and the National Broadcasting Commission for the benefit of all. ‘‘If we continue to allow this to happen, it will not be well for the industry,’’ he stated.
On his part, Johnson Oyewo, representative of Senior Manager, MTN Regulatory Affairs and Corporate Relations, dismissed the position of 9Mobile and Airtel, saying that their positions were based on presumptions and lack of data to suggest what they were saying.
He said the desire for the acquisition of the 800MHz spectrum from Visafone by MTN was not driven by selfishness but to expand its network and help the country achieve its 30 per cent broadband coverage by end of 2018.
To Oyewo, MTN was on trial because of its insatiable appetite for investment in every segment of the telecom industry.
‘‘We want to expand our network to the rural areas and that is the advantage the 800MHz has to a long distant with less resources. We want to help the Rural Telephony Project, at large it is Nigeria that will benefit from it.
‘‘This is in line with broadband objective of Nigeria. With this transaction, MTN can leapfrog towards the 30 per cent broadband target. We see a greater good.
”We urge the Commission that this assessment should not only be based on competition but also on the interest of the consumer as well and economic objective of the economy because if we invest, what that translate is that there will be a direct impact on the GDP,’’ Oyewo added.
Prof. Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, had earlier in his opening speech, told the audience that the public enquiry was meant to gather informed contributions from stakeholders to enable the commission take informed decision consistent with its mandate to create an enabling environment for effective competition in the industry as well ensure provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country.
‘‘The commission seeks your active participation in the deliberations that would lead to an informed decision consistent with our mandate.
‘‘As you may be aware, the demand for spectrum has increased due to emergence of disruptive innovations such as Mobile Broadband, Web Applications, Cloud Computing (CC), Internet of Thinks (IoT) and the proliferation of smart devices among others.
‘‘Consequently, in order to reap the benefits of effective utilization of Spectrum as well as improve operational efficiency and regulatory excellence, the Commission in accordance with its mandate as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act, NCA, 2003 embarked on re-planning of some of the its frequency bands.
‘‘In line with the spirit of participatory regulation and the strategic objective of the commission to hold regular consultation with the industry stakeholders, the commission has decided to hold a public enquiry to elicit inputs and comments from stakeholders to enable us draw important and beneficial contributions from your wealth of experience and research,” the NCC boss said.