Sunday , August 14 2022

Quality of telecom services threatened as Lagos, others hike RoW charges

…..States’ action against FG Broadband Plan – ALTON

Fourteen states, among them Lagos, Nigeria’s commerce capital, have hiked the cost of right of way (RoW) for telecommunication infrastructure, making it difficult for telecommunication services providers to provide pervasive telecom services infrastructure and offer such services at reduced cost as is being demanded by Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami.

The Minister had told journalists at a press conference attended by all agencies under the Ministry in Abuja on Friday that he has written to all the governors in Nigeria on the need to comply with the National Economic Council (NEC) resolution on the Right of Way (RoW).

In Pantami’s words, “All the Governors had agreed to the harmonisation on the RoW charges and efforts are being made to ensure the policy is respected.”

But less than three days after that assurance, the National Newspaper disputed that Minister’s claim, highlighting that Lagos, Kano, Anambra, Ondo, Cross River, Kogi, Osun, Kaduna, Enugu, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Imo, Kebbi and Gombe have hiked the cost of Right of Way (RoW) for telecoms infrastructure.

It was reported that instead of the Federal Government’s N145 per linear meter, the states have actually increased the cost of RoW from their initial fee of between N300 to N500 per linear meter to between N3,000 and N6,000 per linear meter.

ROW is the right granted telecom services providers by land owners to install telecom infrastructures, such as fibre optic cables to pass through such pieces of land or from one end of land to another.

The implication is that the Minister’s effort towards reducing the cost of data and other telecom services may not work as the telecoms companies will naturally pass the additional cost being incurred to telecoms consumers.

For many years, the telecos have complained about the actions of federal and state agencies who they claim have refused them right of way to provide telecom services, and where they have allowed them the cost of the permit has been too high to bear.

On its own part the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had also intervened on the part of the telecos, engaging with several state governments in a bid to ease ROW for the telecom services providers.

Interestingly, the increase in the ROW cost being demanded by the states is coming at a time when Pantami is demanding the reduction in the cost of telecom services, such as data.

Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) Gbenga Adebayo said the action of the states was ill-timed because it was coming at a time the federal government has set a new broadband penetration target, which requires that the telecos provide broadband infrastructure across the states.

He also said it was ill-timed because the increase by the states comes at the time the United Kingdom government was showing interest in the recently announced broadband plan by the federal government. The action of the states, he said could discourage investment, among other implications, such as cost of providing services to the end-user.

Adebayo said the telcos cannot provide broadband or other digital infrastructure across Nigeria if land owners make it difficult for the telecos to acquire the ROW.

According to him, the new cost of acquiring the ROW, as being reported is  now higher than the cost of one linear metre fibre optic, and this is besides the cost of labour.

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Newspaper reports show that agencies and ministries of some of these states have increased the cost of RoW from the initial fee of between N300 to N500 per linear metre to between N3,000 and N6,000 per linear metre. However, the cost of RoW on federal roads is N142 per linear metre.

Some of these agencies and ministries include, the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), State Information Technology Agency (SITA) of Ondo, Cross River State Infrastructure Safety and Regulatory Agency (CRISRA), Kogi State Environmental Protection Board and Kano State Urban Planning and Development Authority.

Others are: Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KSIRS), Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA), Osun State Ministry of Environment and Sanitation, Anambra State Internal Revenue Services, Enugu State Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Adamawa State Ministry of Environment, Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission (Imo ENTRACO), Kebbi State Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals and Gombe State Internal Revenue Board It was also learnt that some of the states refused to collect the old rates for RoW and are no longer issuing RoW licences in their various states.

For instance, the new management of the LASIMRA, recently increased RoW fee from N500 per linear meter to N5, 000 per linear meter.

Also, the Senior Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Information and Telecommunications Technology, Mr. Olumbe Akinkugbe, who is in charge of State Information and Technology Agency (SITA), said that the agency had designed a policy that could reduce cost of operations for the telecommunication companies.

Akinkugbe, however, said the companies had to be opened on their infrastructural needs and their plans to achieve same.

According to a media report, he said that at the national level, the federal government had also established Broadband Infrastructure Rollout Plan, which has resulted in infrastructure companies being given concessions for RoW nationally that had been broken into regions.

“What we are planning to do is to encourage what we call ‘One Dig Policy. One dig policy is a situation whereby we partner with reliable organisation to actually develop a fiber rollout plan on these right of way at a discounted rate such that when various telecoms operators are coming in there is already a laid down path as well as dug.

“What that will do is that it will prevent a situation where MTN wants to expand their fibre infrastructure, they come and apply for right of way and dig; that Airtel wants to come, they come again, they open up the ground and start digging,” he explained.

In Kano State, the state Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Mr. Mu’azu Magaji, said that “on this issue of telecommunication companies and fees, basically across the whole country, the cost of erecting mast is the same as in Kano State.

“But in special circumstances, we granted some discounts to some operators regarding the total cost they pay especially if that mast is within a government facility.

According to him, the waiver is for their access corridor fibre which is new telecom infrastructure, which NITDA and NCC are trying to provide high speed broadband internet network in Kano.

The Director General of Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA), Mr. Ismaila Dikko, told the media that he was not aware of complaints by the telecoms operators over high cost of RoW, the Enugu State Commissioner for Environment, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga, promised to respond to the issue today.

Telecoms operators across networks had blamed the poor telecoms service currently being experienced by subscribers on the refusal of the federal and state government agencies to grant the operators the RoW licence to lay more fibre optic cables in cities.

Telecoms subscribers have continued to face networks challenges, ranging from incessant drop calls and poor connectivity to delays in delivering text messages, among others.

The telecom operators under ALTON had long requested for RoW licence that would enable them to expand their networks by laying more broadband fibre optic cables.

But their request has not been granted by various government agencies, forcing them to maintain the available network that is not sufficient to manage the peak periods.

According to Adebayo it is wrong for the states to begin to put the demand for revenue generation against their social responsibility to their citizens. He says it is wrong for the states to see the telecos as a cash-cow that they should milk dry

The implication of these increases of the cost of ROW, is that the cost of providing infrastructure for telecom services would spike and would in turn affect the cost of providing the services to end-users.

About Bukola Olanrewaju

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