A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. John Odey, has had the privilege of presiding over two important ministries in the country. Immediately after his watch at the Ministry of Communications, he was redeployed to the Ministry of Environment.
Given the benefit of the opportunity to preside over the two ministries, insiders expected that he would use his experience to quench a smoldering conflict between two government agencies – the Nigerian Communications Commission and the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Enforcement Agency.
Alas, this was not to be. Barely one year after Odey had finished his assignment in the two ministries, the smoldering crisis between the two agencies flamed up in the public domain.
Specifically in April, NESREA had sealed a Base Transceiver Station, popularly known as base station, belonging to MTN Nigeria Communications Limited at EFAB Estate in Abuja.
The contention of NESREA was that the location of the base station contradicted its regulation on the sitting of base stations.
According to the standards agency, the BTS did not conform to the 10 metres setback from a residential building as stipulated by the agency.
NESREA also contended that the BTS did not have its own Environmental Impact Assessment and was not captured in the National Mast Audit conducted by the agency.
Explaining the action, Director-General of NESREA, Dr. Ngeri Benebo, said, “We are not against any telecommunications company. NESREA’s mandate is to ensure that every base station has its Environmental Impact Assessment.”
For NCC, this was an affront to its own mandate.
In a counter action, a team of NCC officials led by Head of Compliance Monitoring, Mr. Ephraim Nwokennaya, forced the place open and authorised MTN officials to repossess the base station.
NCC and NESREA have contradictory regulations on the setback that should be observed by telecom operators in the location of their base stations.
While NCC’s regulation stipulates a minimum of five metres, NESREA’s regulation stipulates a minimum of 10 metres.
Nwokennaya said it was wrong for NESREA to seal the base station without reference to NCC, adding that the Nigeria Communications Act 2003 vests on the responsibility of regulations of telecommunications on NCC.
According to him, any other agency that has responsibility on the telecommunications industry only has fiduciary function, adding that efforts to make NESREA to understand this had failed.
He stated that the base station in question located in EFAB City Estate met the five metres prescription of NCC since the distance between it and the nearest house was 5.6 metres.
Speaking to journalists after enforcement exercise, Director of Press at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo said regulation in the industry must be consistent so that investors don’t get the impression about the investment climate in Nigeria.
Ojobo said NCC collaborated with other government agencies such as National Lottery Commission and Consumer Protection Council while NESREA had refused to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with it like the other agencies.
He said, “We believe that if any base station should be shut down, NCC should be consulted. A situation of unilateral action by a government agency has serious implication on the industry.”
He lamented that any base station shut down has the tendency to worsen the quality of service in the country, adding that in the past two years, no approval had been given for the construction of a base station in Abuja.
Ojobo said NCC’s five-metre regulation was in conformity with the standards set by the International Telecommunications Union, challenging NESREA to show any evidence that the distance was dangerous to health.
While some environmental activists had come to back NESREA; some telecommunications activists including the National Association of Telecommunication Subscribers have also come to back the NCC.
National President of NATCOMS, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, challenged NESREA not to base its action on sentiments but on proven facts, adding that closing down base stations had the potency of worsening the quality of service in the industry that was already far below acceptable standards.
There had been fear that radiation had the capacity to cause cancer.
Apart from cancer, there are also concerns about the noise pollution from generators that are used for powering base stations. There had also been fears about the health hazards of mobile phones.
According to Wikipedia, electromagnetic radiation is a form of energy emitted and absorbed by charged particles, which exhibits wave-like behaviour as it travels through space.
Some common items that produce electromagnetic waves in differing degrees include hairdryers, electric ovens, fluorescent lights, microwave ovens, stereos, wireless phones and computers.
The concern about the health implications of electromagnetic radiation from telecommunication masts goes beyond the shores of the country and this present time. It had also attracted the attention of experts, professional bodies and regulatory agencies across the world and at different times.
When radiation became a major issue towards the end of 2010 in Ghana, the Radiation Protection Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission allayed the fears of subscribers at workshop meant to throw light on the nature of electronic radiation.
Head of the Institute, Dr. Joseph Amoako, said there was no cause to worry as long as emission levels are kept within the compliance level.
He said, “Electromagnetic waves are emitted by many natural and man-made sources and play a very important part in our lives. We are warmed by the electromagnetic emissions of the sun and we see using the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes detect as visible light.
“All electromagnetic radiation consists of oscillating electric and magnetic fields and the frequency, which is the number of times per second at which the wave oscillates, determines their properties and the use that can be made of them.
“A mobile phone sends and receives information (voice messages, fax, computer data, etc) by radio communication. Radio frequency signals are transmitted from the phone to the nearest base station and incoming signals (carrying the speech from the person to whom the phone user is listening) are sent from the base station to the phone at a slightly different frequency.”
Explaining why mobile operators need to roll out sufficient base stations, Amoako added, “The cells overlap at the edges to ensure the mobile phone users always remain within range of a base station. Without sufficient base stations in the right locations, mobile phones will not work.
“If a person with a mobile phone starts to move out of one cell and into another, the controlling network hands over communications to the adjacent base station.”
Although the World Health Organisation has said that there are no adverse effects of the radiation from base stations, it adds that more research needs to be carried out to close existing gaps in knowledge.
“None of the recent reviews of the scientific findings have concluded that the radio frequency exposure from mobile telephones and their base stations causes adverse health effects. However, there are gaps in knowledge that have been identified for further research to better assess health risks,” the global health organisation had said.
Given the importance of base station to telecommunications in the country as well as the paramount importance of health of subscriber, it is important that regulatory agencies that have direct or fiduciary oversight of the burgeoning telecommunication industry work together.
This will ensure the confidence of the population in the industry that has been a showcase of progress and prosperity in the past 11 years. Speaking in contradictory terms or giving contradictory regulation would only confound subscribers and the general public.
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Date posted: Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 8:41 am | Under category: Uncategorized
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