As NCC wields the big stick on MTN

Daily Trust - - BUSINESS - By Zakariyya Adaramola

The Nige­rian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (NCC’s) axe once again fell on MTN Nige­ria when the tele­coms in­dus­try reg­u­la­tor Monday slammed a fine of N1.4tril­lion on it over un­reg­is­tered sub­scribers on its net­work.

NCC said the South African tele­coms op­er­a­tor would have to pay N200, 000 for each of the 5.2mil­lion sub­scribers it failed to dis­con­nect from its net­work at the end of the Au­gust dead­line set by the reg­u­la­tory body.

From 2012 when the SIM reg­is­tra­tion started, any­one buy­ing a SIM card in Nige­ria has had to reg­is­ter it un­der their name by law.

But the tele­coms reg­u­la­tor found out in Au­gust that the tele­coms op­er­a­tors did not carry out the ex­er­cise prop­erly on 38.78mil­lion sub­scribers, and they were di­rected to rereg­is­ter the sub­scribers within one month or be sanc­tioned.

NCC’s Head of Com­pli­ance and Mon­i­tor­ing Unit, Efosa Ide­hen said NCC had iden­ti­fied the de­fects that made the sub­scribers' reg­is­tra­tion to be ir­reg­u­lar to in­clude poor fin­ger prints, no fa­cial in­for­ma­tion and other bio­met­ric chal­lenges.

A source in NCC said MTN failed to carry out the com­mis­sion's di­rec­tive af­ter re­peated warn­ings, hence the fine.

The fine is the largest in the his­tory of tele­com in­fringe­ments in Nige­ria and may re­de­fine the re­la­tion­ships be­tween telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors and the reg­u­la­tor.

But MTN in a state­ment on Monday said it was in talks with the NCC over the fine and hoped to re­solve the mat­ter soon.

NCC had ear­lier in Septem­ber fined MTN, Glo, Air­tel and Eti­salat N120m for fail­ing to dis­con­nect sub­scribers with in­com­plete reg­is­tra­tion but it is not clear whether they have paid the fine or not.

A se­nior NCC of­fi­cial had told Daily Trust that the com­mis­sion was firm on im­ple­ment­ing this lat­est sanc­tion on MTN.

NCC’s spokesman, Tony Ojobo de­clined to com­ment yes­ter­day but a se­nior of­fi­cial in the com­mis­sion con­fided in Daily Trust that NCC is yet to en­ter into any talk with MTN.

The of­fi­cial who pleaded anonymity said the tele­com firm was eco­nom­i­cal with the truth for say­ing “we are in talks.”

“They (MTN) are not telling the truth. We are not aware of any talk; maybe they are talk­ing with dif­fer­ent peo­ple not us. As I am talk­ing to you now our re­solve at the com­mis­sion is to see through this fine is­sue”, the NCC of­fi­cial said.

But when con­tacted an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Li­censed Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Op­er­a­tors of Nige­ria (AL­TON) said “a big le­gal tus­sle may be in the off­ing since the reg­u­la­tor has said it is not aware of any talk. That is not another way of say­ing they are not ready for talks.”

MTN’s Pub­lic Re­la­tions and Pro­to­col Man­ager Funso Aina in­sisted yes­ter­day that the tele­coms op­er­a­tor is in talks with NCC and the mat­ter may be re­solved soon.

“All I know is that we are in talks and I am not aware of any­thing apart from this. We are still dis­cussing with them (NCC) to find an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion to the is­sue”, Mr Aina told our re­porter by phone.

On whether the South African com­pany is con­sid­er­ing a le­gal suit, Mr Aina sim­ply said “well, I am not aware of that.”

NCC said it had warned MTN and other op­er­a­tors of the im­pend­ing pun­ish­ment. It said: “On Novem­ber 2013, op­er­a­tors were di­rected to fully bar any newly regis­tered SIM card, which failed to per­form a voice or data com­mu­ni­ca­tion within 48 hours af­ter its reg­is­tra­tion.

“On Septem­ber 2014, the NCC, to whom op­er­a­tors up­load reg­is­tra­tions ev­ery month, shared de­tails back to the op­er­a­tors of reg­is­tra­tion records that the NCC judged as in­valid on the NCC sys­tem. Op­er­a­tors were di­rected to clean up their reg­is­tra­tion records through de­ac­ti­va­tion or rec­on­cile the records within a 30-day pe­riod.

“And on July 8, 2015, the NCC di­rected op­er­a­tors to de­ac­ti­vate all pre-regis­tered SIM cards (SIMs regis­tered but with­out a record of ac­tiv­ity) within a pe­riod of 21 days - from July 8, 2015 to July 29, 2015.

“On Au­gust 4, 2015 op­er­a­tors, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the NSA, Di­rec­tor State Se­cu­rity (DSS) and the NCC held a meet­ing to dis­cuss is­sues around SIM reg­is­tra­tion in Nige­ria. The is­sue of in­valid reg­is­tra­tions was high­lighted as a ma­jor threat to na­tional se­cu­rity and a di­rec­tive was is­sued to all telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors to de­ac­ti­vate all SIM cards with im­proper/in­valid reg­is­tra­tion de­tails by Au­gust 11, 2015.

“Au­gust 17, 2015: The NCC and se­cu­rity agen­cies con­ducted a com­pli­ance au­dit on all op­er­a­tors be­tween Au­gust 17, 2015 and Au­gust 19, 2015 fol­low­ing the ex­piry of the dead­line of Au­gust 11, 2015, for de­ac­ti­va­tion of im­prop­erly regis­tered SIM cards. The NCC dis­closed, at a press con­fer­ence on the same day that de­spite shar­ing a list of in­valid reg­is­tra­tion de­tails with op­er­a­tors, MTN had made lit­tle or no ef­fort to­wards com­pli­ance with the de­ac­ti­va­tion di­rec­tive whilst other op­er­a­tors had largely com­plied.

“Septem­ber 4, 2015: A high level meet­ing chaired by the Chief of Staff to the Pres­i­dent of Nige­ria was called at the pres­i­den­tial villa. This meet­ing is un­prece­dented in the Nige­rian busi­ness in­dus­try as the tele­com CEOs were brought to meet the heads of the main se­cu­rity agen­cies and the Ex­ec­u­tive Vice-Chair­man of the NCC, in or­der for the com­pli­ance with the de­ac­ti­va­tion di­rec­tive to be em­pha­sised.

“MTN’s non­com­pli­ance with the di­rec­tive is un­for­tu­nately not an iso­lated in­ci­dent. It needs to be seen in the con­text of a gen­eral pat­tern of non-com­pli­ance with reg­u­la­tory di­rec­tives that ac­tu­ally pre­dates the cur­rent SIM reg­is­tra­tion in­frac­tions.

Speak­ing on the fine, Chief De­olu Ogun­banjo, the Pres­i­dent, Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Tele­coms Sub­scribers said NCC’s fine against MTN is dou­ble jeop­ardy.

This he said is be­cause MTN alone could not be blamed for the woes in the SIM reg­is­tra­tion ex­er­cise.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the agent hired by the NCC to carry out the ex­er­cise also failed to do due dili­gence to SIM reg­is­tra­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

He noted that the per­sonal em­ployed by those agents lacked the tech­ni­cal skills to carry out the ex­er­cise apart from the fac­tor of meet­ing with the daily tar­gets of 50-70 daily reg­is­tra­tion.

Ogun­banjo said NCC hasn’t come to term with its fail­ure in the SIM reg­is­tra­tion scheme, adding that the com­mis­sion em­ployed an agent for each geo po­lit­i­cal zones and one for La­gos con­sid­er­ing the state pop­u­la­tion mak­ing a to­tal of seven agents and it should ad­mit fail­ure.

Mean­while shares in South Africa’s MTN sta­bled yes­ter­day af­ter buy­ers were re­as­sured of the am­i­ca­ble set­tle­ment of the dis­pute be­tween MTN Nige­ria and the Nige­rian tele­coms reg­u­la­tor.

NCC Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Chair­man, Prof Umar Dan­batta

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