Telecom operators in Nigeria have asked the National Assembly to exclude them from any regulatory powers that will be given to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) under the new NITDA Bill being considered by the lawmakers.
The telcos under the umbrella of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) stated this in their submission to the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on ICT and Cyber Security, during a public hearing on the Bill.
According to them, including telecom operators as part of the entities to be regulated by NITDA would put the telecom industry under the pressure of multiple regulations as they are currently being regulated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Avoiding multiple regulations
While insisting that most of the regulatory functions being ascribed to NITDA in the new Bill were duplicating NCC’s roles, the telcos in their submissions stated:
- “If the Bill is passed as presently constituted, there is the risk that the Agency, acting properly under the Bill may issue regulations, guidelines, and standards with regard to the use of information technology and digital services, which will conflict with the functions of the NCC. It will also result in double and possibly conflicting regulations for telecommunications companies in Nigeria.
- “In this circumstance, we humbly request that since telecommunications are already being regulated by the NCC with regards to information technology and digital services, the Distinguished Members of the Committee have telecommunication companies excluded from group of persons (“Operators”) who will come under the control and regulation of the Agency with regards to information technology and digital services.”
Concerns raised over provisions of the bill
Citing Section 6(1) and (12) of the Bill, which provides that the Agency is empowered to “implement all government policies on information technology and digital economy,” and “issue and renew licenses and authorizations for the provision of information technology and digital services,” ALTON said what constitutes information technology and digital economy are defined in Section 33 of the Bill.
- By the said provision of Section 33, “Digital Economy” is defined to mean “any aspect of the Nigerian Economy that is based or driven by digital technologies,” while “Information Technology” is defined to include “all forms of technology used to create, store, exchange and use information in its various forms (business data, voice, conversation, still images, motion pictures, multimedia presentations and other forms including those not yet conceived).”
- “Distinguished Members of the Senate Committee ICT and Cyber Security, going by the foregoing, it is apparent that the Agency is being empowered to regulate activities that are already under the purview of the Nigerian Communications Commission (“NCC”). Presently, the NCC regulates the activities of all telecommunications companies that fall within the purview of the digital economy and information technology.
- “Specifically, the NCC with regard to the digital economy is responsible for the monitoring and implementation of the National Broadband Plan (2020 – 2025) and the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy.
- “Closely related to the above are the provisions of Section 6(2) of the Bill, which empowers the Agency to test and approve the use of information technology infrastructure and services before adoption in Nigeria and Section 20, which clothes the Agency with powers to make regulations and issue licenses and authorization for operators in the information technology and digital economy sector.
- “This again replicates the power of the NCC, which includes “carrying out type approval tests on communications equipment and issuing certificates on the basis of technical specifications and standards prescribed from time to time by the Commission” as stipulated by the provisions of Section 4(n) of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act (NCA), 2003, and for which the NCC Type Approval Regulations exists,” ALTON stated.
Since last year when it came into the public glare, the NITDA Bill, which is still at the National Assembly, has come under heavy criticism from different stakeholders in the ICT industry. The main concern has been that the Bill is arrogating the functions of other existing agencies and regulators to NITDA.