Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has identified the exclusion of critical telecoms infrastructures from Abuja Master plan, as contributory factor to the persistent poor quality of network services in major parts of the Federal Capital Territory.
Engineer Gbenga Adebayo, chairman ALTON, made the remark during a breakfast dialogue with Nigeria Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA) in Lagos, insisting that the Federal Government needs to review the master plan to make provision for the deployment of cell sites in the City.
Following recommendations by Justice Akinola Aguda Panel in 1975, the Federal Government established the Federal Capital Development Authority in 1976 which commissioned a US-based IPA Group, to prepare a draft Master Plan for the new Federal Capital of Nigeria.
The Master Plan of Abuja by IPA, completed in 1979 according to FCDA, is now undergoing review by Messrs. Albert Speers Partners in collaboration with four other Nigerian Town Planning Consultants, namely, Multi-system Consultant, Austin Aike & Partners Fola Konsult and Benna Associate.
ALTON claimed that the masterplan has no provision for modern technologies to drive telecommunications services in the FCT thereby causing poor quality of service and limiting operator’s ability to expand operations.
He further lamented that several efforts to get attention of relevant authorities in the FCT to make provision for such infrastructure has not yielded enough results.
Eng. Adebayo told the industry reporters, “The reality is that if we want good telecoms services, we have to leave with the environmental pains that come with it. It is very simple- you have a very nice looking building, but you need to receive good TV signals at home. So, you go to instal apparatus to capture digital signal. It’s a pain you have to leave with. In our case, I am not saying a painful infliction on the people. No, rather why we need good telecom services, there are supporting infrastructure that we need to tolerate. The reason being that, for example, problem of approval for cell sites. We were told, there are no areas designated for cell sites towers within Abuja central area. Now, Abuja is one of the most difficult cities to drive in and out at the peak times.
“The reason is it is the seat of Government, yet we don’t have approval to build cell sites. We have been in discussions with Abuja Authorities in the last four years on how to mitigate on this problem. They keep saying, ‘no approval’.
“The implication is that you are at the seat of Government yet it is difficult to make calls. Very simple. And they did say there are no designated areas for building cell sites, because it was not in the masterplan.
“The masterplan was developed about 40 years ago. When it was done, there was no mobile telecom services. We think it is time for somebody to look at that concept again and grant approvals to service providers so we can improve the quality of service.
“I make bold to say until we have the necessary infrastrastructure to deploy infrastructure in Abuja, we will continue to struggle with QoS in the FCT.
“It is high time somebody somewhere did something to allow us to build more cell sites in and around Abuja to have better coverage and improve on the quality of services. We are told it is because of aesthetics and revenue. But we think, the common good of the socioeconomic benefits of telecoms services to the economy should override other interests.
“So, the disruption of infrastructure on the environment is something we may need to compromise. Now what police do we require going forward. It is as basic as give us access to foreign exchange”.
He said that the Government needs to pay close attention to the telecoms industry to understand where to intervene and make amends for better service delivery to the populace.
“Those are policy issues. In the first instance, we don’t know how some industries are designated as priority and telecoms didn’t appear on the list. Government talk about Aviation, Agriculture, Manufacturing, while telecoms disappeared from the list. We know that telecoms is the infrastructure of infrastructures. So, what policy do we need for government to solve this problem? Give us access to foreign exchange!”
The ALTON Chairman also called for end to multiple taxation and regulations in the industry, which he said are slowing down investment in the sector.
“That is my cry: remove the issue of multiple taxation, multiple regulations, classify our infrastructure as national and economic infrastructure. Give us first layer of protection. Now, report has it people are complaining about the state of power supply to our homes. Many are buying inverters. Now, battery stolen from cell sites on Shagamu-Benin Express road, sold to the supplier in Benin, then, to the distributor in Agbor, then to an aggregator in Onitsha, then to Alaba market and finally to a Consumer in Kano.
“Therefore, we need to secure our infrastructure.These are the policy issues we are clamouring for, believing that when they are addressed by way of healthy modifications, it will help to move the industry forward.
“Whether we have not done enough engagement with stakeholders, you are our voice. Please, tell them about our predicaments. We are engaging government in all levels. Recently, we were in Ebonyi State, the other week, we were in Kaduna State, the upper week- Imo State. Yesterday, they were in Abuja; all to engage stakeholders.
“You might be surprised that after the meeting in Ebonyi, despite all the problems we had there, the report they gave to His Excellency was different from the realities. He came to the meeting to express surprise at what the Advisers told him. That’s why we need you to tell the right stories about the problems that we face”, Eng. Adebayo concluded.