NITDA Bill: Telecom Operators Seek Exclusion

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The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the body of licensed telecommunications services providers, have asked the National Assembly to exclude them from any regulatory powers that will be given to the National Information Technology Development Agency through the new NITDA Bill.

The bill which is currently before the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on ICT and Cyber Security seeks to give NITDA the power to administer, implement, and regulate information technology systems and practices as well as the digital economy of the country.

According to the operators, the bill will lead to the duplicity of the regulatory function that the Nigerian Communications Commission is already carrying out in the telecoms space. They stated this in a statement signed by the Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, and Executive Secretary of ALTON, Gbolahan Awonuga.

The operators said, “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 regard to information technology and digital services, the  Distinguished Members of the Committee have telecommunication companies excluded from the group of persons (“Operators”) who will come under the control and regulation of the Agency with regard to information technology and digital services.”

Citing provisions of Section 6(1) and (12) of the bill, ALTON noted that the bill seeks to give NITDA the power to implement all government policies on information technology and digital economy, and issue and renew licences and authorisations for the provision of information technology and digital services.

It explained that this empowers the agency to regulate activities that are already under the purview of the NCC.

It said, “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 regards 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.”

Reiterating concerns about the bill, telecom operators stated that they would prefer total exclusion from the “ambit of the Agency’s operations as there are no provisions for its liaising with the NCC in promulgating any regulations.

“The fear that its regulations may conflict with existing NCC regulations or duplicate and further complicate them is not unfounded since there is no requirement by the Bill for synchronisation between the Agency and NCC.”

The NITDA bill has come under many criticisms since it became a topic of conversation in 2022. Many experts have expressed concerns that the bill will curtail the positive strides that the ICT sector has made in recent years.