Myself being one of the keen observers and someone that holds a stake in the Broadcast industry, and someone that feel saddled with the responsibility of telling the truth to the public no matter whose oar is gored, I make bold to say that, no matter how precious and promising the idea of digital broadcasting switch over, despite the energies and resources being dissipated by government through the National Broadcasting commission (NBC), there are saboteurs that do not want to see the process achieved in this country, and these saboteurs have dissected themselves into different elements and employed different mechanisms at making do their wishes.
Wart and all, NBC, the agency in charge of this process, has come under several attaches and challenges along the line but one thing for sure is that Digital Switch-Over (DSO) is sacrosanct, especially at the face of these series of attacks and sabotages from all corners of the industry.
As far as I can recall, the ordeal began after the NBC’s experimentation of the Digital broadcasting in Jos, plateau state capital, after which broadcast signal distribution license was offered for bidding. One of the companies that won the second broadcast signal distribution license, dragged the commission to the federal high court, Abuja, challenging the commission’s legality of licensing Broadcast signal to other companies.
The plaintiff’s counsel, Joseph Daudu (SAN) said that after his client had won the sole bid for the distribution of broadcast signal, the NBC, however, allegedly issued licenses to other companies thereby making the license to Pinnacle unprofitable.
Although, the case is still pending in the court, and in order not to jump the cat, I think this charge by this Communications Company is incompatible with rational thinking. How could someone allot so precious and scarce a national resource to oneself without giving room for other interested Nigerians to partake in, just in the name of profit making?
Initially I didn’t want to talk about the case, and allow it to die naturally as it is bound to, but with the rate of media campaign and propaganda embarked upon by the company to disabuse the minds of the public regarding the process, had spurred me into responding to these allegations with a view to clearing the air to the public.
As if that was not enough, propaganda recently reared its ugly head again when my attention was drawn to the recent controversy over the sale or rather licensing of 700MHz spectrum by the NBC to MTN Communications Ltd for a reported sum of N34 Billion.
The bone of the controversy lies in the argument that NBC has no constitutional backing on the sale of the spectrum to MTN company, saying that the right falls within the ambit of the National Communications Commission (NCC).
However, the palpable concern of the criticism is that NBC ought to release this spectrum to the National Frequency Board for onward transfer to the NCC who will then auction it to the interested Nigerians.
Others are of the opinion that the sale of 700MHz spectrum has handed MTN an opportunity to enrich its dominance in the telecoms market, adding that with this development, Nigeria risks going back to the dark days of NITEL’s monopoly which was plagued by the absence of competition.
Here, I think these critics are ignorant of the fact that the spectrum NBC had licensed to MTN is only restricted to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services. Therefore, the spectrum still remains a broadcast spectrum. As such, MTN is expected to utilise the frequency to offer converged DTT services in the broadcast industry.
The DG added that in as much as NBC has no right to sell telecoms spectrum, the broadcast aspect in telecommunications has fallen under the beam of NBC as its prerogative and NBC does not require approval or permission from NFMC for licensing of spectrum.
For the benefit of those that do not grab the concept of a spectrum, I wish to say that spectrum is a wireless communication that travels through the air in the form of electromagnetic waves. Spectrum is a scarce, yet critical resource that plays a key role in determining the ability of telecom operator to offer competitive services. It is believed that the higher the spectrum in possession of a telecommunications operator, the better and more efficient the service provision.
More so, with the increasing demand for data services and broadband telecommunications services, it has become pertinent that additional spectrum allocations be made to the telecommunications Industry in the country.
Initially, the 700MHz spectrum currently being used by the broadcasting industry was earmarked to be released by to the telecommunications industry following an agreement by member nations of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as far back as 2006 as broadcasting transited from analogue to digital which requires less spectrum resources.
It is in this spirit that the NBC decided to release the 700MHz spectrum to the telecommunications operators in preparation for the eventual Digital Switch Over next by June 2017. And this release, according to the Director General of the Commission was done through a fierce and competitive process alongside assessment on the need and impact on the audience and market, which saw MTN Nigeria as the winner.
It is known that paucity of fund caused the country to miss the deadline of June this year for the Digital Switch-Over (DSO). As such, the Director General of the NBC said that the decision to free up was borne out of the commission’s desire to raise money on its own for the DSO. According to him, the decision was done in consultation with National Frequency Management Council (NFMC), which is chaired by the Ministry of Communication Technology.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that, in as much as DSO is sacrosanct, there is the need for NCC and NBC need to synergize. I believe that the synergy will afford Nigerians the best possible option for the provision of high quality converged broadcasting and telecommunications services, while enabling the funding for a successful DSO which would free up more spectrum for the NCC to sell, rather than the situation as it is where NCC has been cannibalizing
the process through a piecemeal allocations of the spectrum without raising the necessary funds for the DSO.
. Tahir wrote from Abuja