The executive chairman, Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr Gbenga Adebayo, in this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, talks about the various challenges militating against telecom operators’ efforts to provide quality and affordable telecom services.
Taxes and levies against telecom operators
We consider tax payment as a matter of patriotic duty being one of the elements of good corporate governance. We appreciate the fiscal pressure on ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the respective federal, state and local government councils, particularly, in the face of the dwindling federal allocation.
However, we believe that taxes and levies should be broad-based and fairly distributed across all sectors of the economy. There is, therefore, no justification for targeted, and sometimes, very high taxes on telecommunications operations.
We are calling for a cross-sector/multi-stakeholder approach to reduce growing burden of taxation on our industry. Telecommunications being in the exclusive list of federal taxes, there is a need to streamline all such taxes and levies which should not be aimed mainly at telecommunications infrastructure.
Closure of base stations and operations sites
Our association is very concerned about the recurring cases of telecom sites closure by government agents. We continue to record cases of arbitrary site closures in many states of the federation in an attempt to force service providers to pay local taxes and levies some of which are multiple in nature and most of which are only aimed toward telecom operators.
The questions we are asking are “what has telecom operations got to do with Eco Tax for Gaseous Emission when we do not have moving machineries and production lines? What has the telecoms service got to do with Sewage, Sanitation, and Public Convenience Levy when we are not hotel and bar operators? What has the telecoms services got to do with Sanitation and Refuse Effluent Tax when we don’t operate fast food centres? How can a base station situated in a farm land be regarded as a business premises and, therefore, liable to Business Premises Tenement Rate payment? Why is the rate charged per base station in urban areas different from the rate applicable to residential and commercial buildings when the base station occupies the same land as the others? These are few examples of the nature of taxes that are alien to our operations but aimed at telecom operators.
Likely increase in telecom tariffs
We have resolved that the arbitrary sealing of our sites without following the guidelines clearly provided by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and in line with best practices will no longer be tolerated. Henceforth, any of our sites arbitrarily closed by any state or local government authority will not be reopened by our members. We will serve the necessary warnings and if such practices continue, we are then faced with two options: the first is to pay the charges by such state government, and increase the tariff chargeable for calls originating and terminating from networks in such states with all the attendant service delivery issues. Where such actions on the part of the government continue, we shall then advise all our members, after due consultation with relevant authorities because of the security and economic implications, to shut down the entire network in such state for one full day as a final warning to such state or local government area. Enough is enough.
Telecom is not an extractive industry
We are considering very carefully the situation of site closure and harassment of our members in some states, such as Ogun, Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Osun, and Kaduna, and we may begin anytime soon to have them feel the impact of their actions on telecom operators if they do not desist from the deliberate disruption of our operations. In these states there has been rampart arbitrary closure of telecom sites and actions of government impacting on our operations. They are treating our industry as an extractive industry, imposing myriads of taxes on our members and closing down the BTS sites arbitrarily. Many sites in the listed states have been shut down by the state governments or are about to be shut down by agents of government not minding the security and economic implications on their states.
Telecoms services as critical national infrastructure
I need to use this opportunity to emphasise once again the need for special protection for our infrastructure and operations. The telecom industry supports many other economic sectors which operations and trade depends on our services. We are also in the first layer when it comes to critical technology service for enhanced safety and security.
Unless we have a first level of protection by government, it will be difficult to continue to provide uninterrupted services with the vulnerability our members and their infrastructure are exposed to. We, hereby, appeal to the president and commander in chief of the armed forces to declare telecom infrastructure as critical national security and economic infrastructure as provided by the Cybercrime Law of 2015.
North East infrastructure, quality of service
Quite a number of our base stations, exchanges and other critical equipment were destroyed by insurgents in the North East of Nigeria, and it has remained increasingly difficult to restore services in those areas. We are appealing for support from the government for secured access to those sites and concession by way of reliefs to our members who are rebuilding damaged infrastructure in those areas.
We are asking for concession by waivers and reliefs from government. Quality of services across the various networks continues to record significant improvement since 2015 as our members continue to invest in network elements to enhance good quality of service across the national network.
We would like to reassure subscribers of our determination and commitment to provide reliable and good quality services at all time. We, however, require the support of consumers, government and all the stakeholders to kindly take ownership of our infrastructure by protecting those next to them, assisting us to look after them and supporting our members determination to provide unrestricted access as well as global support in the onerous task of providing world class service across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
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