NCC faults MTN’s claim on operating licence
FROM the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has come an explanation of what happened to the operating licence of MTN Nigeria in the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands, saying it was not a renewal but harmonization of the tenure of two licences which extended the period of operation to 2021.
MTN had earlier claimed to have secured renewal of the tenure of its operating spectrum licence in the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands, which it paid $94.2 million ($18.8 billion) to get.
The telecommunications firm, in a statement made available to journalists in Lagos, said the NCC has approved renewal of its licences. It claimed that with this renewal, MTN’s operating spectrum which was issued along with the Digital Mobile License (DML) in 2001 (with an original expiry date of August 31, 2016), has now been extended to August 31, 2021.
NCC, which declined to issue official statement on the issue, however, faulted MTN saying the licencse was not a new one, but hamonisation of the DML and UASL licences, which the firm already own.
MTN said the licence extension notification was contained in a letter dated November 2, 2015, and signed by the acting Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umaru Danbatta.
According to the telecommunications firm, the letter reads part: “MTN will, however, be required to pay the sum of $94, 225, 152. 75 as Spectrum fee for the five- year extension period.”
It will be recalled that in February 2001, pursuant to one of the most transparent mobile licence auctions in the world, the NCC issued Digital Mobile Licenses (DML) to three pioneer mobile operators. The licences were bundled with spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands. Amongst other authorisations, MTN also holds a Unified Access License and a 3G Spectrum Licence through which it provides a full bouquet of digital services to its customers throughout Nigeria.
The Corporate Services Executive of MTN, Akinwale Goodluck said: “We view this extension as a demonstration of confidence in MTN’s capacity to continue to provide ground-breaking and innovative services to its customers, and another milestone in the evolution of the Nigerian communications industry.”
Speaking to The Guardian, NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, Tony Ojobo, said the MTN licence was only harmonized, not renewed.
Ojobo, who said the licence hamonisation does not stop the sanction, which earned MTN N1.04 trillion fine, explained that the DML licence won by MTN in 2001 was for a period of 15 years (9/2/2001 to 8/2/2016), subject to automatic renewal as provided for in paragraph 3 and 4 of the DML licence condition.
“Also, in 2006, MTN (along with other licencees) was granted the Unified Access Service Licence (UASL) for a period of 10 years commencing from 1/9/2006 to 31/8/2016, which brought about the harmonisation.”
Another source at the commission, who spoke to The Guardian, also faulted MTN’s claim, saying the process did not start yesterday as claimed by the telecommunications firm, but as far back as 2007.
“In 2007, when MTN won the 2GHz Spectrum licence, the commission, based on the information memorandum, requested MTN to pay for the extension of tits UASL Licence, as communicated in a letter of 3rd August, 2007. Records available in finance department shows that MTN paid for the extension of the licence in 2007 from 10 years to 15 years.”
The source further explained that “early this year, in compliance with the condition of the DML licence on renewal as cited above, MTN, along with another licensee (Airtel), applied for the renewal of its DML licence, which expired on 8th February, 2006.
Also, after due consideration by the commission, the source said, it was decided that the DML issuance will be discontinued, as it has been subdued under the UASL. “However, the tenure of the spectrum licence being used for this service, 900MHz and 800MHz would be harmonised to run concurrently with the UASL for administrative convenience.
“The commission, by a letter dated 27th July, 2015, had asked MTN to pay for the extension of the spectrum till 31 August, 2015. However, based on MTN’s letter of 6th August, 2015, it was discovered that it had paid for an extension in 2007. There was, however, no document to show that the extension was duly communicated to MTN. Accordingly, MTN has to pay spectrum fees till 2021 instead of 2016 as earlier advised. That is the present situation.”