The Nigerian communications Commission is seeking a court order to shut down the operations of GSM companies in Abuja over failure to pay the N1.17bn penalty recently imposed on them.
A reliable source at the NCC, who spoke with our correspondent under the condition of anonymity on Tuesday, said the regulatory body planned to shut down the administrative offices of the affected network operators after securing the court order.
The NCC had recently penalised the four GSM companies operating in the country, to the tune of N1.17bn, for poor quality of service rendered to subscribers in March and April, 2012. Though MTN was requested to pay N360m; Airtel, N270m; Etisalat, N360m; and Globacom, N180m, they had failed to meet the May 25, 2012 deadline. As such, the affected operators have been incurring additional N2.5m per day as penalty for as long as the contravention persists.
For failure to pay the stipulated fine, however, the source said the NCC would get the court order and shut down the administrative offices of the errant operators.
He explained that it was not in the attitude of the NCC to shut down base stations in case of infraction on the part of any operator because such an action would have far-reaching implications on the subscribers.
When contacted, NCC Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said, “NCC is weighing all the options that are available to it as a regulator. A regulator is a regulator. NCC is a lawful organisation and we will always ensure that we are on the side of the law in anything we do. There are certain decisions that are strategic to us and we don’t like talking about them before taking actions.”
A senior official of one of the affected telcos, who pleaded anonymity, said the action, if taken, would affect the country’s over 99 million subscribers as well as the stability of the industry.
Reacting to the assertion that NCC does not shut down base stations, the source said shutting down the administrative offices would have a ripple effect on the smooth running of the base stations too.
“If NCC shuts down our offices in Abuja, who will direct the field offices maintaining our base stations?”, he asked.
“And if the diesel runs out of the generators serving the base stations engines, who will refill them?,” he asked again.
“The base stations will go down and it will affect the over 99 million subscribers, ” he said.
The official said the affected telecoms operators had hub sites in Abuja that could serve as many as 60 other base stations that could be spread across three or four states.
“If they go down, you can’t predict the adverse effect that could have on the subscribers. Therefore, the plan to shut down our offices is disruptive to service and disruptive to our business,” he said.
According to him, it is not as if operators don’t want to pay the fine but they want the NCC to reconsider the matter considering the fact that operators will always find it difficult to meet the Quality of Service Key Performance Indicators set by the NCC, owing to an unfriendly operating environment.
He further said, “We are not saying that we want a regulator that is always on our side. We are only asking for understanding from the regulator who should understand the challenges operators contend with every day.”
Speaking on the matter, the President, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said shutting down telcos’ operating offices could destabilise the industry.
“Stakeholders are meeting and there has been progress. Parties have exhibited good faith in the matter. However, considering what we have gone through in the past week, I do not expect anyone to take any step that will affect the stability of the industry, not the NCC, not the operators and not even our association. However, if it happens, we will make our position known to the public,” he said.