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Controversy rocks auction of spectrum band for 5G rollout in Nigeria

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The auction of spectrum for the rollout of fifth generation (5G) networks in Nigeria is presently enmeshed in a controversy after a report emerged that Nigeria’s telecoms regulators shifted grounds to accommodate some bidders.

Although, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria’s telecoms regulators has clarified the issue, the report had it that the Commission was forced to move deadline for the submission of the bid and payment of the ten percent fee of $20 million after it emerged that only MTN Nigeria had complied with the requirement.

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Recall that the NCC announced a bid for the 3.5Ghz spectrum band for the rollout of 5G network in the country, and set the deadline for the submission of bids for Wednesday, November 24, 2021. However, the telecoms regulators moved the deadline from Wednesday, November 24, 2021 to Monday, November 29, 2021.

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On December 1, 2021, the Commission announced that at the close of the bid submission date of November 29, 2021, three companies, namely MTN Nigeria, Mafab Communications Ltd and Airtel Networks Ltd had successfully submitted their bids in line with the requirements of the Information Memorandum (IM).

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Meanwhile, the NCC in a statement released by its Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, denied ever shifting grounds to accommodate bidders, stressing that the deadline was shifted following concerns expressed by industry stakeholders and potential bidders, including MTN.

Adinde in the statement cited the strike by air traffic controllers of November 23, 2021, just a day before the deadline for the submission of bids, which disrupted flights operations in Lagos as part of reasons why the deadline was shifted, stressing that even MTN on November 23, 2021 communicated to the Commission via email, asserting its concerns about the air traffic controllers’ strike and how it is likely to impede timely submission of their bid.

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The Commission further stressed that the Business Day report is replete with misinformation, which the NCC said is capable of misleading industry stakeholders, the general public and undermining the integrity of the ongoing process for the auction of the 5G spectrum. The Commission also clarified that all three bidders are existing licensees of the Commission under different license categories and

“For instance, the publication alleged that Mafab Communications is a relatively unknown operator in the industry, suggesting that it was not eligible to bid for the spectrum. The IM has clearly stipulated that new entrants into the industry can participate in the bid and if they are successful, the Commission will issue the entity an operating license in line with the extant provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 and its licensing regulations,” the statement reads in part.

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The statement adds: “It is pertinent to state that the Nigerian Communications Commission maintains an unimpeachable record and reputation based on precedents of open and transparent spectrum auctions over the years, which had earned it both local and international recognition.

“The Commission is consistently guided by its well-established principles of fairness, firmness and forthrightness and wishes to assure Nigerians that it is determined to ensure the successful implementation of the 5G Auction spectrum, which is set to take place on December 13, 2021”.

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