The Association Of License Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) is celebrating its twentieth year of operation as a unifying body for telecom operators in Nigeria.
At a media briefing to announce the anniversary in Lagos, the Chairman of ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo narrated the history of the Association, its legacies and plans for the future.
ALTON was constituted to address the peculiar early challenges faced by Private Telecom Operators (PTO) as they were called at the time. These challenges included issues of signaling protocol, interconnectivity, billing issues, multiple regulation and taxation, issues of Right of Way (RoW) and protection of the overall interest of private investors in the sector.
The formation of the Association was exceptionally necessary because the operators saw the incumbent state-owned Nigeria Telecommunications Limited as doing everything possible to frustrate the existence of the PTOs.
Engr. Adebayo noted that since inception, ALTON has continued to play a key role in market development of the telecommunications industry. According to him, the Association’s intervention on behalf of its members on several issues such as challenges of multiple taxation, multiple regulations, rates and tariff determination, market competition, unfavorable government policies and setting up telecommunications as Critical National Infrastructure, have been of immense benefit to the Nigerian telecommunications industry at large.
He went memory on lane to the formative years of telecommunication services in Nigeria prior to the sector’s liberalization and deregulation. He noted that 20 years ago, the absence of policy document articulating sector growth path and development objectives; ineffectual regulatory framework establishing sector regulator; costly access charges, yet unsatisfactory levels of service provision; limited opportunity for private sector participation and total dominance by State-owned monopoly entity, NITEL were the hallmarks of those formative years. Others were the long waiting time for telephone acquisition, which was between 24 and 48 months, and the wide gulf between service demand and service supply.
Also in terms of operations, there was only one cellular mobile network with limited coverage and only 26,500 connected lines, which today has increased to four GSM operators, two VoIP operators and four Fixed Wired operators, with 172.9 million mobile subscriptions and teledensity at 123.5 percent.
He pointed to the contributions of the sector to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which 20 years ago stood below one percent, but has grown to 11.4 percent as at Q2 2019.
Broadband penetration also jumped from six percent as at 2013 to above 30 percent presently, with the sector attracting marginal foreign direct investment, to an inflow of over USD68 billion, contributing over N15 trillion to the nation’s economy from inception till date.
While enumerating the factors that has enabled growth in the industry over the period to include independent and vibrant sector regulator; issuance of enabling regulatory instruments; private sector commitment to investment and business development; and the sheer size of market and diverse opportunity, Engr. Adebayo pointed to some limiting factors.
According to him, challenging economic conditions coupled with poor state of supporting public infrastructure has been limiting the growth speed of the sector. Other inhibiting factors include lingering insecurity of critical installations and rent-seeking approach to taxation which has negates a harmonized structure to taxation.
He called for a review and redefinition of sector policy objectives while also embracing the concept of ‘connected verticals’ which will see all stakeholders, including agencies of government working towards the same policy goals. Security for assets and investments is also critical if the digital economy angle of telecommunication will be attained.
He frowned at situations where operators are looked upon as playing a role across the peoples’ purpose, and asked that the industry be seen as a socio-economic development partner.
He pointed out that the successful battles have taken ALTON to a place of prominence.
ALTON was formed in 1999, then known as the National Association of Telecom Operators (NALTO) and incorporated in the year 2000 as the Association Of License Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) a corporate body, duly registered under the laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria as an Incorporated Trustee, and officially recognized by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission and other regulatory agencies as the industry body for all providers of telecommunications and subsidiary services in Nigeria.
Membership of the Association includes all the major telecommunications licensees in Nigeria, particularly Mobile Network Operators (MNO), Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos), Fixed and Mobile Fixed voice and data operators across the various segments.