The telecom industry waxed worriedly at the weekend over the growing targeted attacks on telecom equipment, infrastructure and telecom workers and urged the government to declare ICT equipment, critical national infrastructure that must be protected by law, Nigeria CommunicationsWeek can report.
Vandalism is a problem that affects the delicate tripod on which the telecom industry stands: the regulator; operators; and the subscribers.
Though figures are hard to come by, this senseless crime is believed to be costing the industry billions of naira annually and denying Nigerians of better quality of service from the operators.
Although most vandals do not have a clear motives for their acts, investigations showed that basic social problems; lack of awareness of the critical nature of the infrastructure; and attitudes are at the root of vandalism.
The Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) acknowledged the growing attacks and said it has begun moves for a bill in the national assembly to underpin the importance of industry’s infrastructure.
Nodding in agreement, telecom subscribers and operators said that ICT infrastructure is a national resource which must be protected just like railway and electricity infrastructures are protected by law.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that it cost about $150,000 to install a single base station together with its tower, special antennas, and two generators to power the station.
These equipment are like the central nervous system of communications because they allow subscribers make and receive calls are targets of vandals and thieves.
But the infrastructure are easy preys to vandals who are exploiting the lax security situation and absence of stiff punishment for offenders.
Emeka Oparah, vice president, corporate communications/corporate social responsibility at Airtel Nigeria said vandalisation of the telecom service equipment are regular occurrences.
He cited the example of base station in Abia state where Airtel Nigeria lost four generators to the vandals.
The state has over the years gained notoriety for unfriendliness to the telecommunications infrastructure.
It took a more dangerous dimension in 2010 when six hapless telecommunications maintenance workers were killed in Aba, the commercial hub of the State.
The workers, members of the MTN workgroup which included two policemen were said to have gone to carry out maintenance operation at a base transmission station in Aba.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that apart from theft of generators and vandalisation of telecommunications equipment, the industry has also been plagued by the rising incidence of damage to their fibre-optic networks.
MTN said that on the average it suffers more than 70 fibre cuts in various locations across the country every month.
Wale Goodluck, corporate services executive at MTN warn of the long-term negative impact on quality of service and national security.
Findings showed that cuts on the fibre-optic networks are as a result of poor road construction practices; willful damage perpetrated by criminal elements and sabotage.
Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, president of Teledom Group and former president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (Atcon) said the vandalisation of telecom infrastructure has negative impact in further investment in the sector with the attendant ripple effects on the economy including job losses, poor quality of service, reduced taxation to the government and so on.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that the industry suffers with any minor errors (technical faults, accidents, vandalisation, data recording errors, etc.) that can alter, disrupt or block the system processes unintentionally.
These disruptions not only disconnect subscribers, but could cause embarrassment to businesses and national security.
Deola Ogunbanjo, president, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMMS), said that telecommunications equipment must be declared critical national infrastructure to prevent it from vandalisation.
Checks with security agencies and the Nigerian Communications Commission, the industry regulator, showed they are aware of the development.
Tony Ojobo, director, Public Affairs of the NCC, said that the commission has initiated moves for a bill to protect telecom infrastructure.
The NCC has already constituted an Industry Working Group (IWG) on Multiple Taxations seeking the discontinuance of illegal taxes/multiple regulations on telecommunication infrastructure as a strategy to deepen ICT Penetration and improve the Quality of Service (QoS), National Security and overall socio-economic development of the country as well as to facilitate the designation of telecom infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).