Telecommunication As Agent of Growth in Africa
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) There is no gainsaying the fact that telecommunication is one of the main drivers of economic growth in any nation. Telecommunication, experts say, has a crucial role to play in all sectors and the development of any sector can be hinged on appropriate channels of communication. Indeed, most developed countries built their economies through consistent and effective communications.
The Nigerian telecommunication industry has witnessed an astronomical growth in the past few years because of the solid regulatory framework put in place by the Nigerian telecoms umpire, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Studies have shown that Nigeria currently is a highly valued destination for telecoms investments and this reflects in the number of foreign companies willing to come to the country to do business on daily basis.
This growth has directly affected Nigeria's local and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which till date, has surpassed an unprecedented $25 billion with telecoms subscribers reaching over 120 million and teledensity slightly above 80 per cent. Also, internet subscription is also growing steadily with Nigeria having internet subscription of around 50 million.
Consistent with its mission to engender improved service delivery to the teeming telecoms subscribers in the country and even across Africa and following the success it recorded in hosting the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) forum in Abuja, penultimate week, the NCC again, last week, assembled telecoms regulators from across the African continent, tasking them on the need to put subscribers at the heart of regulations.
At the forum, which is the first conference of African telecom regulators on consumer affairs, with the theme, 'Harnessing regulatory policies to protect telecom consumers in Africa', the executive vice chairman of the NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, said that though the potential for growth in telecoms sector on the continent is huge, the growth and the shift of emphasis from licensing to other obligations like consumer protection had increased both the scope and complexity of regulating telecommunications.
He contended that the growth envisaged in the telecoms sector in each African country could only further be reinforced if regulators across the continent could come together and cross-pollinate ideas on how to deliver better regulations that would give the consumers a pride of place.
Citing Nigeria's case on regulation, he said, "the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003, binds us to three primary stakeholders, namely the government, operators and the consumers. Of the three, however, our position as regulators has always been that the consumer is king because he supplies the fuel that keeps the market in perpetual motion."
According to him, the coming of consumerism also reinforces this position of the consumer in the market as the most pivotal in the scale of importance.
He explained that one of the functions of the commission was the protection and promotion of the interests of the consumers against unfair practices including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges for and the availability and quality of communications services, equipment and facilities.
The NCC boss further said that the commission had come up with several well-thought out policies and intervention mechanisms deliberately instituted to grow the industry while protecting, informing and educating (PIE) the consumers. "Regulators are now faced with the huge challenges of matching its regulatory policies with the various stakeholders' interests," Juwah said.
Juwah said the regulatory trend put in place by the NCC included the creation of Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAB), Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), Digital Appreciation Project (DAP), Emergency Communication Centre (ECC), Advanced Digital Access Programme for Tertiary Institutions (ADPTI), Wireless Cloud Programme (WCP) and School Access Programme (SAP).
In his remarks, the general manager of consumer affairs, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the regulator on communications in South Africa, Mr. Phosa Mashangoane, emphasized the need for regulators to be accountable in order to earn legitimacy.
He said, "the regulators must be accountable to the government and the telecoms consumers and adequate mechanisms should be implemented to educate and protect consumers, and allow the consumers to voice their opinions and concerns with the regulator."
In his address, the programme coordinator of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU), Alice Koech, reiterated the need for Africa's regulators to harmonise their regulatory frameworks to fast-track the delivery of quality and robust telecom services on the African continent.
She advocated more interaction with the outside world such as the ITU Telecomm to learn of prevailing and most importantly emerging best practices.
"We also need robust and more frequent regional and continental ministerial meetings to adopt and review performance of harmonization as well as using case studies that show the benefit of harmonization," she added.
Meanwhile, NCC's director, policy competition and economic analysis, Mrs. Lolia Emakpore, has warned that telecom firms both in Nigeria and other African countries will lose market share, customers and investors if they fail to satisfy customers effectively and efficiently as their competitors are doing.
She said, "customer satisfaction, therefore, encompasses customer service quality, fair price structure, sales promotion, coverage, signal strength and promotion."
Copyright Leadership. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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