OrderPaperToday– The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has accused the Ministry of Works and Housing of causing increased dropped calls experienced by telecommunications users.

The director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity of the NCC, Engr Bako Wakil, made the accusation while highlighting constraints and challenges associated with network interruptions during a one day investigative hearing on a motion on incessant dropped calls.

According to Wakil, the calls are dropped when fibre cables are tampered with and this is common among construction workers who tamper with fibre cables, which in turn results in a halt in network transmission.

He said, “We also have very incessant damage to fibre cables that transmit from the base station to core network. In 2019, we had an average of 1065 fibre quartz per month.

“Not quite long, Mr President visited Daura and the fibre that carries the network was destroyed by construction workers between Kano and Katsina so that period, there was no service in Daura and this kind of fibre disruption occurs everyday. If you are speaking and the fibre cuts, that network will cut off and the call will drop.”

But the minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, in his response, refuted NCC’s claims, noting that telecommunications operators do not follow guidelines in laying down cables.

Fashola explained, “If I understand it, you are making a call and it cuts, if we have cut your cable, how do you connect in the first place? If that cable is cut, ordinarily it should not connect because I have spoken to some experts and their views tally partly with what you have said but that is to show you that what we have done here, the federal high way by your law is under the minister of works and that minister has powers to make regulations. We have made those regulations in regards to use of right of will and so, a copy of those provisions will act as regulations that annexures 1 and 2.

“The important point is to go through the regulations and see that we have highlighted in paragraph 3, the guidelines for telcos to lay cables and all of what they must do. Those guidelines are in annexure 3.

“One of the first points is that you must first obtain an approval from us. If you obtain an approval from us, you will go through what we set out in paragraph 4, pages 2 to 3. You must comply with trenching, regulations on depth and you must give us markers so that we know that your cable is there. How many of these operators comply?

“In Bauchi and Gombe, you will see markers painted in yellow and green. They were MTN markers showing their right of will. So if anyone wants to construct a road, you will know that those assets there.

“I am not saying contractors have not accidentally damaged the cables but it is the service compliance, the quality of doing business without shortcuts that helps to protect those assets.”

The minister also pointed out that damaged cables are caused due to lack of synergy among telecommunications operators.

“The other point is, in other jurisdictions, Telecom operators do not operate individually in laying cables. They ought to co-locate,” he added.

More shortfalls on dropped calls

The NCC official also identified capacity constraint as an issue.

He said, “Looking at the number of subscribers, the user structure available on ground is not just sufficient. If anything happens to the transmission line, there will be a dropped call.

“The access network infrastructure, mast and tower we see near houses, we have what we call backbone site for base controller stations and the way they are done, they are interwoven and if there is a problem with one, all the other stations connected will go down.

“Capacity constraint is caused by multiple regulation and multiple taxation in our society which we do not find any where else and high cost of will.

“There are moves from the executive from the minister’s office to harmonise right of way charges. At the federal level, by laying of cables, operators pay N145 per linear metre to ministry of Works and there some states that charge as high as N5000 per metre. These are not encouraging investments as we need in network expansion.”

Wakil also attributed the cause of dropped calls to the directive on closure of borders.

He alleged that the comptroller  general of Customs, Hameed Ali  did not give approval for telecommunications to fuel base stations around the borders.

“Because of the customs border closure where 20 kilometres to the border  that there should not be any fuel supply. We have over 200 base stations around the borders that are down. We have written to the Customs.

“We got an approval and relayed it to the operators that the customs said we should be accompanied by security agencies and they went out only to be told that the approval from the deputy CG of Customs is not acceptable that the CG said for any waiver  it has to be signed by the CG himself. Up till now, they have not been able to deploy fuel and more are coming down,” Wakil added.

Lawan goes tough on NCC, service providers

The Senate president, Ahmed Lawan, in his opening remarks at the hearing,  advised Nigerians to abandon service providers whose network experience dropped calls.

Lawan said: “Whoever will provide better services, I think Nigerians will be better advised to use that service whatever it is. And whoever is not, Nigerians should abandon such a service provider.

“But at the moment, all the service providers are involved in this drop calls. We pay for drop calls and drop calls are not services provided. For service providers, I am sorry I have to be brash and I have to be blunt, this is cumulative frustration of services not provided by telcos for years.

“The most painful part it is you do not do it anywhere else. You do it in this country. We suffer. MTN in South Africa does not do what they do here. Or even in Ghana. But in Nigeria, maybe because we are too fatalistic by saying maybe that is what God wishes, meanwhile somebody pockets billions. Please, let this be a journey for us in government  representing the people and you service providers, business institutions or organisations that come together and resolve this issue. It is high time.”

He warned the NCC to be diligent in their duty and regulate properly.

Lawan said: “I know some of you will say well we have heard this before, honestly, we are going to be tough with the NCC. NCC should sit up and do what it is expected to do – to regulate properly because we have oversight function on NCC. But you (telcos) you are in business. If you are tired of what is going on I think we will insist on what may appear as an uphill task.”

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