Poorer telecoms services loom over non-access to forex

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Ozioma Ubabukoh

Difficulties in accessing foreign exchange to import the equipment needed to expand infrastructure may worsen data and voice telecommunications service delivery for the rest of this year, our correspondent learnt on Friday.

According to the latest monthly industry data from the Nigerian Communications Commission, there are currently over 153.9 million active voice subscribers in the country and over 93 million data subscribers.

Some of the operators told Saturday PUNCH that they were facing a major setback in implementing their infrastructure expansion plan this year.

The operators stated that except the Federal Government put telecoms on the list of preferred sectors to have seamless access to foreign exchange, “subscribers will have difficulties accessing voice and data services.”

Speaking on behalf of the operators, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Mr. Olusola Teniola, said that the government’s policy on forex adversely affected the firms in expanding their networks in 2016.

He said not acceding to the request in 2017 meant that the industry would continue to experience a setback.

Teniola said, “In terms of how we performed last year in the area of telecoms infrastructure rollout, the impact of the devaluation of naira has been felt by most telecoms operators.

“We should realise that 99 per cent of telecoms equipment are imported from the United States and Europe, and you need forex to do this. Not having access to forex, therefore, means a debacle to infrastructure expansion.”

He noted that there were no legal ways of working around the foreign exchange issue.

“Until the government allows telecommunications equipment to be on the preferred list of items that can access cheaper dollars, it is hard to see where further growth will come from in 2017,” the ATCON president said.

Teniola argued that without expansion of networks or increase in capacity upgrades, the networks would not be able to sustain the quality of service or even improve on it, and revenue would stagnate or decline.

“Again, the government needs to show strong leadership on this critical issue,” he added.

The ATCON president noted that despite being a $68bn sector, there appeared to be a lull in telecoms investments and general infrastructure expansion among operators last year.

He, however, said the reason for the lull was simple. “The uncertainty in the naira to US dollar exchange rate has led to anxiety within the investment community and this has also meant that foreign direct investments needed to fund network expansion and capacity upgrades under our members’ capital expenditure programmes have had to be put on hold.

“We need the government to see that an enabling environment with clarity in policy formulation and execution that leads to transparency will encourage investors, both domestic and foreign, to bring funds to drive this expansion.

“Government needs to remove the fear, uncertainty and doubt that are prevailing in the economy in 2017, or there will be further contraction in the economy irrespective of crude oil prices on the global market.”

Teniola said that the over 153.9 million subscribers in the country might witness debilitating quality of service this year due to the inability of the operators to import the necessary equipment as a result of the forex issue to roll out more infrastructural facilities across the country.

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Contact: editor@punchng.com

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