Telcos Incur N27bn On Undersea Cables Repairs – Report

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A recent analysis has revealed that telecom operators lost a significant amount of money in 2023 as a result of spending N27 billion to repair broken cables.

Documents obtained by Bloomberg revealed that MTN Nigeria, the largest cellular provider in Africa’s most populous country, and Airtel Africa Plc borne the majority of the expenditures.

For instance,  the document revealed that MTN suffered more than 6,000 cuts on its fiber cable last year. On Feb. 28, a cut in its network in three different locations by a road construction firm, an oil serving company, and someone burning rubbish in a manhole meant customers faced more than five hours of data and voice outages.

The operator relocated 2,500 kilometres (1,553 miles) of vulnerable fibre cables between 2022 and 2023, at a cost of more than N11 billion —enough to build 870 kilometres of new fibre lines in areas without coverage.

Data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) also revealed that the telecom industry spent N14 billion to repair around 59,000 fibre cuts between 2022 and 2023. In 2022, the NCC pegged the number of fibre cuts to 40 daily.

The NCC estimated that over 50,000 cases of significant damage to telecoms infrastructure, including fibre cuts, have been reported in the past five years, ending 2023.

The foundation of today’s communication infrastructure is made up of broadband fiber optic cables, which allow for the high-speed data transfer necessary for a variety of societal, commercial, and personal endeavours, the chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo adding that telecommunications serves as an ‘enabler’ for all other critical infrastructure and infrastructure sectors vital to national productivity and security.

To function optimally, ALTON chairman said telecommunications infrastructure relies on a complex and interconnected support ecosystem consisting of fibre, satellites, towers, base stations, switches, data centres, etc., which need to function uninterrupted for delivery of optimal Quality of Service (QoS).

He regretted that there have been incidences of adverse cross-sectoral impact on QoS arising from damage to such infrastructure due to excavation during civil works such as road construction, deliberate/negligent vandalization and sabotage as well as theft of cable, equipment, and supplies such as diesel, generators and batteries, undue delay in issuance of site approvals for new towers/base stations as well as harassment of staff /site access denial by state/local agencies to enforce levy payments.

ALTON chairman, however, called for collaborative partnership with key stakeholders to secure executive and legislative action on the declaration of telecoms infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and criminalisation of malicious site sealing, access denials, and willful/negligent destruction of telecommunications infrastructure.

“This can be done either by an executive order or relevant amendment of the Cybercrimes Act; an attempt was made by the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA) to secure Presidential approval for an Executive Order (EO). The executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Aminu Maida, is respectfully requested to liaise with the current NSA to bring to fruition the EO on CNI,” he appealed.

“The NCC boss should also rekindle the quest for Critical National Infrastructure Bill, a bill that will tackle the issue of vandalism of base stations, which is very rampant,” president, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, advocated.

In his reaction, Maida, averred that the Commission has done a lot of stakeholders’ engagement, gathering data and looking at the impact in terms of cost when it comes to damages done to fibre infrastructure and how much of service disruption it is creating for the sector.

However, with broadband penetration at 43.08 per cent as of February 2024, securing existing infrastructure is crucial for growth, Maida averred, adding that, “We need to build a reliable telecom industry with impressive quality of service indicators with quality of experience as our watchword and ultimate goal. This also requires us to address several issues such as the Right of Way challenge, ensuring the security of our telecom infrastructure, among others.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s works ministry is finalising a regulation that will criminalise fibre damage, Bloomberg averred, stating that the regulation will enforce stiffer penalties on offenders and focus on underground network cables, as several laws already criminalise vandalism.

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