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What next for telcos after NEC resolution on harmonised right of way charges?

The acquisition of rights of way (RoW) for infrastructural projects in Nigeria is extremely time-consuming and expensive. By virtue of the Land Use Act, all land in urban areas in each State falls under the control and management of the Governor, while land in rural areas is controlled and managed by the Local Governments in each State. To compound the complexity of land administration, certain lands are vested in the Federal Government and Federal Government agencies. Therefore, project owners often have to deal with government authorities on the 3 different levels to obtain RoWs.

For some time, telecommunications companies in Nigeria have complained about the costs of obtaining RoWs for fibre deployment, which range from ₦5,000 to ₦8,000 per metre. The issue was tabled before the Nigerian Economic Council (NEC), which is comprised of the Vice President, the Governor of each State and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. And the NEC resolved that the RoW rates for fibre deployment be harmonised to ₦145 per metre, excluding any costs of repairs required in the process of the deployment.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) sees this as a triumph and supports the application of the NEC’s resolution throughout the country going forward. However, the question is whether the resolution is binding on the various authorities responsible for granting RoWs. While the resolution will be morally binding on the Federal Government and State Governments who are represented on the NEC, it is doubtful that the resolution is legally binding. Under the Nigerian Constitution, the NEC’s function is to advise the President on the economic affairs of the Federation, particularly on measures necessary for the co-ordination of the economic planning efforts and programs of the various governments of the Federation.

Therefore, while the NEC’s resolution is definitely a step in the right direction, it is only the first step. The NCC must lobby the various authorities in charge of granting RoWs to implement the resolution. The NCC is working to achieve 20% broadband penetration by 2020. If the NCC obtains the buy-in from a sufficient number of the land authorities, it may be able to convince the reticent ones to implement the resolution or risk their communities being left behind in the broadband race.

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