Following the release of a draft memorandum to guide the auctioning of the next phase of 3.5GHz Spectrum by the nation’s telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Airtel Nigeria has placed a request that the telecom firm be awarded an administrative license, which will see it obtain the Spectrum at the Reserve Bid Price of $273.6 million without going through the bid process.
Stating the request, Airtel noted: “Airtel requests an administrative assignment of one of the available Lot to it at the Reserve Price of USD273.6 Million, whilst other applicants, which did not participate in the 5G Spectrum Auction held in 2021 can proceed with the 5G Spectrum Auction scheduled to hold on 19th December 2022.”
The demand came sequel to the opening of the Draft IM for input from stakeholders, which was held as a hybrid event in Lagos on Tuesday.
According to the telecom firm, the demand for an administrative license became necessary due to the fact that Airtel’s participation in the last bid process that saw MTN and Mafab Communications emerge winners of the two slots raised the stake for the bid. In a forwarded message to the Commission, Airtel noted that it was at its point of entry into the bid process that the Reserve Price was raised from $197.4 million to $273.6 million. “The Reserve Price of the 5G Spectrum Auction held in 2021 rose from USD197.4 Million to USD273.6 Million due to Airtel’s participation. Otherwise, the NCC would have assigned the two Lots to the other two applicants at the Reserve Price.”
It will be recalled that in 2001, the NCC auctioned the first two slots of the available 4 slots in the 3.5GHz band for the deployment of 5G technology services. The auction saw the emergence of MTN and Mafab as winners with MTN taking the slot of the preferred bidder, and allocated Lot B (3500-3600MHz band, while Mafab acquired the 3700-3800 MHz band.
The two slots open for auction now are the 3400-3500MHz band and the 3600-3700MHz band.
Responding to the request made by Airtel, the regulator, at the public forum, rejected the plea, maintaining that the enabling section of the Act establishing it details a bid process as a means of allocating Spectrums to operators.
“The Commission is mandated by Section 124 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 to set out the process for assignment of spectrum. It is in that regard that the Commission has set out that the two Lots are to be made available through an auction process and therefore will not be assigned administratively,” the NCC categorically stated.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, while also commenting on the request, disclosed that: “Following the successful auction of the initial two (2) lots in December 2021, the Commission has received requests to administratively license the available lots at the previous auction fee. However, the Commission, in line with its powers under the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, has decided to license the available lots in the 3.5GHz band through the Auction Method which is a transparent and efficient approach that can open up opportunities for new entrants as well as deepen competition in the industry.”
Also commenting on the request by Airtel, rival telecom firm, MTN made it clear that such demand, if granted, will constitute anti-competition practice. Regulatory Services, MTN Communications Plc,, Ikenna Ikeme,implored Airtel to join the bid like every other telecom firm.