The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, has insisted that data tariff in the country will be reviewed downward. Pantami said this is necessary to ensure that more Nigerians have access to affordable and ubiquitous Internet, and broadband services in the country.
As at November, there were over 240 million connected lines, with 178 million active telephone users, while there are 123 million Internet users, and about 70 million broadband subscribers in the country. It would be recalled that in October and November 2019, at a meeting in Abuja, the minister handed a directive to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure that telecoms operators slashed data tariffs, based on claims that subscribers pay huge sums to be online.
In fact, the minister gave NCC five-days to effect the review, but the directive ended up sparking diverse reactions across the country, especially among operators, while subscribers were ecstatic. Some subscribers, who commented on the development on the social media, described Pantami as the ‘messiah.’
In recognition of the fact that prices in the sector are not fixed arbitrarily, or by fiat, but based on Cost-based Study, as was done in the previous reviews, the NCC appealed to the minister for more time before the directive can be effectively implemented. However, during an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, on Friday, the minister assured that data tariff will be reviewed.On the ministry’s Twitter handle, @FMoCDENigeria, Pantami said: “We are working on ensuring the price of mobile data is reviewed in Nigeria in line with our #DigitalEconomy blueprint. When the price is low, the demand will be high.”
The minister further informed that subject to the availability of funds in the year, and in-line with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, the country would embark on a wide digital literacy campaign with a view to ensuring that in the next 10 years, 90 per cent of Nigerians would be digital literates.
Still on the Twitter handle, the Minister informed that the National Digital Economy Policy Strategy is built on eight pillars, which are development regulation; digital literacy and skills development; service infrastructure; solid infrastructure; digital service promotion and development; soft infrastructure; digital societies and emerging technologies, and indigenous content development. Pantami encouraged every Nigerian to key into the National Digital Economy Policy Strategy unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja on November 28, 2019.
Meanwhile, nothing concrete has been done by the NCC yet regarding the downward review.A source at the Commission informed The Guardian that NCC was yet to take any measure on the directive. According to him, this is because before the minister was appointed, Cost-based Study was already being handled by KPMG to determine the viability of price slash.
The source said the Commission was going to follow strictly what the study produces, as enshrined in the Nigeria Communications Act 2003.“A Cost-based Study is already on. When that is completed, hopefully by mid-year, that study will be subjected to stakeholders’ engagement. We shall now know the decision to be taken. The study will let us know if the operators are actually making profit or not. I can tell you point blank that 9Mobile is not making profit. Airtel is struggling to keep fit. I think it is only MTN that we can say is managing.
“Most of the operators are finding it difficult to even pay the Annual Operating Level (AOL), and so many other regulatory fees like that. “I think the minister also needs to look at challenges facing operators. The environment is still not friendly. Access to foreign exchange is still a challenge, multiple taxation, and similar levies reign supreme in the country,” the source said adding, “the fact is that every decision is still based on the study’s recommendations. The industry will not jump at anything,” he stressed.
The Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, who said that telecoms prices are not determined by political intervention noted: “We defer to our regulator the NCC as required by the Communications Act on all such matters.” While commending the minister for the efforts so far targeted at moving the sector forward, Adebayo, said market and forces of competition are things that can trigger a downward review based on studies. He urged the minister to look into how the country can be more conducive for investments and investors.