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MTN Nigeria spectrum transfer deal sparks heated debate

MTN Nigeria spectrum transfer deal sparks heated debate

MTN Nigeria's rivals have unanimously opposed plans by the regulator to transfer the spectrum owned by Visafone to MTN which acquired Nigeria's only surviving CDMA company in 2016.

According to the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), the deal was sanctioned in December 2015 and allows MTN Nigeria to utilise Visafone's 800MHz spectrum to launch 4GLTE services.

During a public hearing on the issue hosted by NCC this week, only MTN Nigeria representatives argued in favour of the spectrum transfer, while Airtel and Globacom, among others, opposed the deal.

Competitors argued the transfer would give MTN an undue advantage since it would then oversee 38% of locally available spectrum, thereby enabling it to further dominate a market in which it is already the biggest operator.

Spokesperson for 9mobile Oluseyi Osunsedo said spectrum is a scarce national resource that should not be handed over to an operator just because it can afford it.

"Allowing MTN to get the spectrum in question will impede competition in the telecommunications market," said Osunsedo.

Johnson Oyewo, MTN Nigeria's Senior Manager for Regulatory Affairs, said his company is being punished for investing heavily in spectrum acquisition, based on its strong belief in the Nigerian market.

According to Oyewo, other operators had the chance to increase their spectrum quota when the NCC auctioned the 2.6GHz spectrum in 2016.

"Considering the fact that 2x40MHz in the 2.6GHz band is still available for sale, it will be improper for any operator to complain about spectrum consideration in one operator if they refuse to invest," Oyewo added.

MTN said concentration alone is not a sufficient reason to block a spectrum transfer, provided the transaction does not harm the consumer.

"(The) NCC should recognise distinct characteristics that the 800MHz spectrum offers, particularly in supporting rural coverage, and should consider that the cost benefits, which are passed to consumers, should suffice as compensation preventing a restriction in a transfer," said Oyewo.

NCC Executive Vice Chairman Prof Umar Garba Danbatta said the regulator reserves the right to decide on the transfer of licence and resources.

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