One of the engaging issues in the early days of deregulation in emerging telecom markets was serial litigation from operators, which had the potential to slow down growth, stifle competition and impede tariff reduction. It was Telecom Answers Associates, while presenting an industry study report to the new NCC management of the very early days of deregulation in Nigeria that drew attention to what it called ‘over-litigation’ in several merging markets stressing the importance of addressing the matter right from the fundamentals.
The issue became a popular talking point for the Commission and the consensus then was that for the survival of the emerging Nigerian telecom industry, a robust and professional Commission was imperative. The operating military decree of the time, according to legalists, left room for manouvre to grow a professional NCC for sustainability in the embryonic industry. The National Communications Act 2003 which emerged almost a decade later, duly lived up to the billing and it did not disappoint.
There is no doubt that today the NCC met the vision of those founding fathers in that regard and even more. Several operators, especially the so-called ‘big players’ headed for the courts at the slightest opportunity to undermine the Commission’s attempt to achieve rollout out services from every Tom Dick and Harry that held a license. Fortunately every time they went to court, the Commission and industry emerged stronger.
There was the particularly interesting case of a notable operator’s lawyer who found offence in then proposed Universal Service Provision FUND objective on the premise it would be ‘unfair to us that we contribute money only for others to spend it’. You have got to hand it to these guys at least they keep things interesting.
From all indication, the 2.3 GHz imbroglio has refused to go away. The latest news was that NCC pre-emptively issued MOBITEL license for to pick up as soon as the Abuja High Court ruled that its licence be released. Perhaps NCC was thinking ahead just in case an operator proceeded to court to argue that the judge had ‘erred in law’, and to request MOBITEL’s license remained withheld.
A few days after MOBITEL received its license, THIS DAY newspaper reported on Thursday March 25 that the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications (we dare not say Minister since there was none at the time) went back to court on appeal to request that the judgment be set aside.
In other words, the returning operator should not be allowed to come into the market. It calls into question whose interest the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications serves. On the face of it, legalism may just be the interest here but certainly not the interest of telephone users for whose interest the ministry was supposed to be serving.
Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory once said ‘With friends like these, who needs enemies’ – if you get my drift.