Communications Minister, Adebayo Shittu, has asked Nigerians to brace up for rise in telecom data price, even as he said telecom service providers were operating under unfriendly business environment including lack of electricity and increasing security challenges.

However, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) said it intervened with an interim price floor for data services to avert a looming price war in the telecommunications sector.

The NCC said it feared that the price war could eventually lead to a monopoly in the telecom industry that would force small operators to shut down.

It said that monopoly in the telecom sector could also push the country back to the days of NITEL – the troubled government-owned telco – to the detriment of small operators.

NCC executive vice chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, made these disclosures when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Communications which was mandated to investigate the proposed data tariff hike said to have been ordered by the NCC.

According to the minister, the reality was that telecom service providers are operating in an unfriendly business environment, including lack of electricity and increasing security challenges.

“This is one area that I believe that we all must face the reality… If you look at the NCC law, it is positioned to reflect experiences, expertise and all of that and I want to believe that there must not be too many interventions in the activities of the NCC.

“I am a political office holder. I am not an expert, so I cannot venture to say whether they did wrong or right, except they say that the constitution has granted them the role of a supervisor of a direct regulatory authority, particularly relating to the activities in the telecoms industry.

“The only area I feel they were deficient was in the area of communicating with the people of this country, particularly because of the sensitivity that has been imposed on Nigerians by the harsh economic situation.

“I know that if you want to make omelet you must break eggs. Unfortunately in this country, we fail to appreciate the transformation role that ICT has brought about in the lives of Nigerians.

“I keep saying this, and I have no apology in saying this, before 1999, GSM lines in Nigeria were less than 500,000. Today, we have well over N152 million lines. All the hustles that Nigerians were going through before the exponential development of ICT are no more with us.

“It is also important to say that operators in Nigeria are operating on a very harsh situation, which is not known in other advanced countries. For instance, over the years, the Nigerian state has not succeeded in fixing electricity over the last 20 years.

“This industry’s reliance on electricity and because Nigeria has failed in providing reliable electricity, it means they have to rely on extra budgetary provisions to provide electricity 24 hours, seven days of the week, which additional expenditure does not operate in other countries which we seek to copy. This is one challenge that we must look at.

“The other challenges in the area of security; a lot of infrastructure by operators are usually under coma by criminals all across the country. Indeed we know what the security situation is in the country. Apart from that we also have the problem of taxes which they have always be talking about. I have always challenged operators that I want to see all the taxes so that we find a way of harmonising them.

“What I am saying is this, if Nigeria has invited international investors to come and invest in Nigeria so that our lives will be better, so that the economy will be better, so that businesses can be more conveniently made, so that even government can run more conveniently, to whom much is given, much is expected.

“The Nigerian state must also be in a position to provide its own share to make an enabling environment operate properly.

“So, I am not supporting at this stage or not supporting the price increase with regards to the floor. But what I am saying is, these are technical issues whose decision must be taken having regard to all the factors that are important before a decision can be taken.

“I am appealing to the distinguished senate in intervening, they should try to encourage NCC to be the best that it can, they should try to assist us (NCC) in the area of holding the balance between the interest of operators and the interest of the Nigerian masses so that we can be seen to be providing the best.”

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