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Nigerian telcos fret over Google’s free Wi-Fi service

.Fear imminent death of more ISPs

.We are not part of it, says NCC

Telecommunications operators in Nigeria are currently disturbed by the recently launched Google free wi-fi service in the country. The free internet service, which is now active in some parts of Lagos and Abuja is seen as fresh threat to their data revenue base.

Hitherto, the licensed operators had been lamenting on the impacts of Over the Top (OTT) services on their voice revenue with the only solace being data subscriptions. However, the Google free Wi-Fi service has thrown a new challenge in the data segment for the operators. As at February, data subscriptions over the mobile networks stood 114 million, but the operators say revenue has not been commensurate with the increasing figure.

The fear is further heightened by alleged plans by Google to deploy Fibre Optic Cable in the country, which would allow it to deliver fast internet service across the country free or at cheaper cost than what the licensed operators can offer.

Google is seen as one of the unlicensed OTTs riding on the telecoms infrastructure to generate revenue for themselves at the expense of licensed operators who bear the cost. According to the Executive Director of Broadbased Communications, Mr Chidi Ibisi, the Google free Internet service has compounded the OTT challenge for the licensed operators. “Who would want to subscribe for data on MTN or Glo when they can have access to free service elsewhere? This was how the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) started dying years ago when the mobile network operators started offering cheap data.  But the real threat is still coming with the OTT’s plan to land fibre optic cable in Nigeria, when that happens, they will offer internet service at the cheapest rate, if not free and by that time, there will be no more revenue for any ISP in Nigeria. The ISP business is about to become no business,” he said.

Ibisi challenged the telecoms regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to rise up in the defence of the licensed operators in the interest of the country. “The Act that established the NCC says it must regulate in the interest of the nation, this is the time for the regulator to do that,” he said.

Also speaking against the backdrop of the threats to licensed operators in the country, Head, Regulatory Service at MainOne, Mr Ifeloju Alakija, urged the NCC to adopt a protectionist approach in regulating the industry. According to him, the planned deployment of fibre cable by Google should not be allowed because it would lead to loss of jobs and closure of many companies currently providing internet service in the country. “Foreign ownership of infrastructure comes with a lot of implications and should not be allowed in Nigeria, he said,” he said.

Meanwhile, the NCC has said it had no hand in the deal that brought about the Google Wi-Fi service in the country, despite being the regulator. According to NCC’s Head of Technical Standard and Network Integrity, Engr Bako Wakil, the Commission only got to know when the deal had been sealed and the service active.

“The only time the issue of Google free Wi-Fi service came to our attention was when they needed our assistance with our Do-Not-Disturb (DND) rule. This is because they need to send code to the users to activate the service and they realise that with the DND enforcement, the users may  not get the message, so they came to us and said help us relax this rule. We said we can’t do that and asked them, who are you in the first place?” “Everything was done at certain level because of the so called Ease of Doing Business; agreement had been signed, and everything had been concluded before they came to us,” he explained.

Wakil added that that while some operators are already complaining over the deal and its implications, the partnership for the deal was signed with one of them (the operators), who also failed to inform the regulator before signing the deal. “The licensing obligation dictates that when you are having a partnership, you must inform the regulator. For the companies that are partnering with Google, we demanded, where is the agreement you have with the company, to know what is the content, what is in it for you and what is in it for Nigeria. We have not heard from them until now”.

“There is no way Google would have done this without partnership with our licensees and they are doing it with them. Why didn’t they contact us before taking the agreement? We just need to work together. We are doing our best at NCC to see that we provide a level playing field for all” Wakil said.


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