NCA to roll out SMP guidelines for telcos

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… as MTN withdraws Supreme Court case  

The National Communications Authority (NCA) is to roll out its Significant Market Power (SMP) guidelines for telecommunication companies in the country following Scancom Plc. (MTN Ghana)’s withdrawal of an application filed at the Supreme Court to review a judgement declaring the company as an SMP.

The guidelines would among others address critical initiatives by the regulator to promote balance in the sector as players with low market share (Glo, Vodafone and AirtelTigo) would be provided some incentives to push them up to an appreciable level that would impact their bottom line.

The B&FT has gathered that the regulator has already engaged Glo, Vodafone and AirtelTigo on the matter and was awaiting the judgement of the court to determine the way forward with MTN. But with that out of the way, talks with MTN to aid the finalisation of the guideline will commence soon.

Background/MTN Statement

After the NCA in a press Statement on June 9, 2020 announced the declaration of MTN Ghana as an SMP, MTN Ghana dragged the NCA to the High Court challenging the declaration, a matter the company lost. It however escalated the case to the Supreme Court but in  a statement issued by management of the company yesterday October 13, 2020 announced that it had  withdrawn the case to allow the NCA to continue works on rolling out the SMP guidelines.

“Given the progress made so far, in good faith, on settlement discussions with the NCA, and Ministry of Communications, the company has withdrawn its application filed at the Supreme Court on September 4, 2020. It is our expectation that this action will pave the way for further discussions and an amicable resolution, in the spirit of the renewed channels of engagement,” the statement said.

According to the company, collective goodwill and commitment is necessary to help the sector thrive to support the government’s agenda of enhancing connectivity and the availability of communication services in the country. The statement added that management is “convinced that this decision is in the best interest of our cherished customers, shareholders and other stakeholders”. The company assured that it remains focused on providing the enabling technology to support Ghana’s digital economy through partnerships with the Government of Ghana and other Ghanaian telecommunication players.

Communications Minister

It would be recalled that the Minister of Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful in an interview with the B&FT last month said that the decision by the regulator of the sector is not aimed at curtailing the investments or growth of MTN but to create an even playing field and ensure that every player in the sector is able to get some reasonable return on investment.

At the time, commenting on the decision by the High Court to dismiss a suit filed by MTN Ghana to restrain the NCA from declaring it as an SMP, the minister said she was expecting MTN to come to the table and corporate to allow the NCA to roll out measures to achieve its aim.

“Vodafone was once declared an SMP for voice telephony, today it is MTN that is being declared as an SMP, tomorrow it may well be AirtelTigo; the industry is evolving and changing and we need to create opportunity for all of them to succeed so that we have a vibrant market which respects the investments made by all actors and it is attractive for foreign direct investment. It is capital intensive so if you put in money and you are not getting anything out, it becomes difficult to sustain the investment” Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful told the paper.

The minister added that the outbreak of COVID-19 has led to the reviewing of investment by multinational companies and the country is positioning itself not to lose but to attract more investors, possibly into the telecommunication sector.

She added that, currently, the country is over exposed to MTN, a risky situation that needs to be checked: “We don’t want to be overexposed to one operator who if it decides to pull out of Ghana and if it holds 70 percent of all our telecoms traffic, that means our entire economy is grinding to a halt. Because we are using the telecommunication infrastructure to deliver online services in all aspects of our socio economic life.” For her, the move is meant to build resilience in the sector and guarantee solid economic growth.

Players Meeting      

The Minister also mentioned that, apart from the NCA’s engagements with MTN, she has directed a meeting with all the players to ensure that the current development does not repeat itself in the future.  She wants the meeting to ensure that, going forward, the sector stays within the National Telecommunications Policy (2005) and curtail operators from going beyond the 40 percent market share in voice, data, SMS and value-added services and be considered as an SMP.

Government MTN relationship

The minister said the regulatory action should not affect the government’s relationship with MTN as there are a number of operations ongoing which would need MTN to provide its infrastructure. One of such is the roll out of the rural telephony infrastructure to 2,000 communities.

She said the government has secured funding for the project and would need all the telecommunication companies to roll out services on the government infrastructure to offer better communication service to rural communities. “In our industry more than many others, we depend on active private public partnership to develop and so I cannot act in isolation of the fact that it is a symbiotic relationship and we need each other. But the companies need to realise that the government and the regulator would do their work” Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful added.

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