Interview: Umar Danbatta

How will open-access, fibre-optic infrastructure lead to increased connectivity?

UMAR DANBATTA: The current open-access model is designed to fill in gaps in broadband infrastructure. The commission has licensed infrastructure companies with a mandate to provide every local government area (LGA) with at least one 10-Gbps access point within a four-year period. All 774 LGAs will have fibre-optic connectivity by 2022, which will help boost broadband penetration. It is hoped that fibre-optic capacity will expand inland to connect the unconnected, which would help enhance national competitiveness, stimulate economic development and create employment opportunities. This should also increase productivity, boost the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises, help e-governance and lead to financial inclusion.

Fair pricing and competition are also of critical importance. The NCC is tackling issues such as vertical price-fixing, predatory pricing, abuse of market power and other anti-competitive practices that affect access costs. Furthermore, regulatory instruments have been devised in consultation with relevant stakeholders to ensure that prices reflect costs.

What is being done to ensure that 5G and the internet of things (IoT) are utilised to their full potential?

DANBATTA: The commission actively participates in the standardisation of the spectrum to be utilised for 5G across the world under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union. These standardisation studies ensure that economies of scale can be accrued, and facilitate the production of devices which utilise these spectra and are affordable to the general populace. In addition, the technology neutrality principle of the NCC ensures that the most effective and efficient technologies are utilised by the licensees in the deployment of services. Also, frameworks such as national roaming and active infrastructure sharing are geared towards optimising capital expenditure and improving operational expenditure efficiencies required for the deployment of 5G technologies, which will facilitate the increased use of IoT devices.

In what ways can competitiveness in the telecoms industry be encouraged and promoted?

DANBATTA: In 2015 we unveiled the Eight-Point Agenda, which promotes fair competition and inclusive growth. The NCC has licensed infrastructure companies to deploy fibre-optic infrastructure on an open-access, non-discriminatory and price-regulated basis. This will address the challenge of congestion in transmission networks. Over the years, various regulatory interventions have also been implemented to increase competition, such as transparent licensing and spectrum auction processes, mobile number portability and interconnection rate determination.

How can mobile operators boost financial inclusion?

DANBATTA: The National Financial Inclusion Strategy was adopted in 2012 to alleviate poverty and provide the poor with financial services. The federal government is aiming for 80% adult inclusion by 2020. Figures from 2016 show that 58% of adults, or 56m people, had access to financial services, while the remainder was unbanked. In the spirit of inter-agency collaboration, the NCC and the Central Bank of Nigeria signed a memorandum of understanding on April 11, 2018 to enhance payment systems and drive financial inclusion in the country, as well as improve mobile money service penetration with the help of mobile network operators. These have the advantage of a huge and trusting subscriber base, and ownership of vast distribution channels. We need to license more non-banks and mobile money operators that can help deliver financial services to the unbanked population. We also believe that the use of homegrown mobile payment solutions that incorporate the use of local languages for payment transactions will help to increase financial inclusion.