OrderPaperToday – Months after launching a probe into the refusal of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) service providers to offer pay-per-view to Nigerians, the House of Representatives has shifted focus to a bill to amend the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act.
Rather than unveil the findings of the probe, the committee put in charge of the exercise has chosen to blame the NBC law as reasons why Nigerians cannot enjoy pay-per-view service from Multi-choice and other DSTV providers.
Deputy Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Communication, Mr. Idem Unyime (PDP, Akwa Ibom), told newsmen over the weekend that a Bill for an Act to amend the National Broadcasting Commission Act, co-sponsored by himself, Odebunmi Olusegun and Dachung Musa Bagos, has scaled second reading on Thursday.
Unyime, who chairs the adhoc committee on the pay-per-view tango, explained that when passed into law, the amendment bill will give the NBC the power to determine tariffs and prices for digital television in the country.
Recall that the House, had in plenary in March 2020, empaneled the committee to liaise with Multi-Choice and relevant stakeholders on the pay-per-view tariff billing as well as push for reduction of price increase by the firm.
Recall also that the public hearings conducted by the Committee did not suggest a firm resolve and unity of purpose to put an end to the issue of high tariffs and pay-per-view by the operators as members openly disagreed with each other.
During one of the Committee meeting with stakeholders, the chairman of the committee rejected motion to expand the investigation by inviting the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Director-General, Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Armstrong Idachaba, engineers and other experts.
The motion was moved by the deputy chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Mr. John Dyegh (APC, Benue), who argued that the proposed invitees should be made to appear to tell whether the reduction for subscription fee and pay-per-view billing was possible.
According to Mr. Dyegh, “this investigation has to be full blown so you (multi-Choice management) argue with Nigerians and tell them what you are telling us. We have to invite the Minister of Information, NBC (Nigeria Broadcasting Commission), engineers and other experts should all appear before the Committee.”
In another hearing, the NBC had defended its helplessness on being on unable to intervene in the DSTV tariffs and pay-per-view billing.
Nothing was heard the committee again for a very long time until the weekend when Mr. Unyime called journalists to inform Nigerians of their intension to push for the NBC amendment bill as panacea to the cries by Nigerians to call Multi-Choice to order.
He expressed confidence that the Bill would be passed into law as quickly as possible to assuage the inconvenience Nigerians have so far endured as far as cable television is concerned.
The Bill, he said, would also break the monopoly in the broadcasting sub-sector and create more employment with more investors coming in.
He said following the cries of Nigerians about the current payment arrangement, they had taken up the assignment and directed the NBC, which is the regulator of the broadcasting industry, to implement the pay-per-view service.
He said in the course of the assignment they discovered that the law did not empower the agency to do so.
“We discovered that there was a lacuna in the Act that regulates the broadcasting industry in Nigeria and the gap there is that the NBC, who is the regulator, does not have the powers to fix or determine price or tariff for these operators in the broadcasting industry,” he said.
Unyime said following this bottleneck, they had to resort to amend the Act that regulates the NBC, so it can have full powers to call the digital television service providers to order when it comes to pricing policy in Nigeria.
Mr. Uyime therefore urged Nigerians to be patient, saying: “The current House based on the past antecedents, based on the records that they have achieved so far, I know that now the Bill has been referred to the Committee for them to do the final working on it, it would not take much time. It is going to come back for third reading, which I believe we are still going to pass it and send for concurrence in the Senate and after that we are going to expect presidential assent.
“I want to assure Nigerians that after the passage of this Bill, the issue of price increment that happens without the control of the regulator, that happens when Nigerians are not expecting, that happens even when the product is not consumed, it is going to be a thing of the past. I want Nigerians to be happy, patient and hopeful that in a short time, these issues are going to be addressed.
“Apart from the tariff, another thing the Bill is seeking to address is the issue of monopoly. For me, broadcasting industry in Nigeria is supposed to be one of the sub-sectors that have a lot of potential in terms of employment and creativity, but because of the way it is being regulated today, because of the way it is being managed today, all those expectations, and all those potentials cannot really be achieved.
“So when this Bill is passed into law, it would also give the NBC the powers to open up the sub-sector so that more players can be brought on board. We need to broaden the system so that both local and international investors can come in and open up the system where we can have varieties.
“You can see what is obtainable today in the telecom industry. Today it is a sector that is so liberal and everybody would want to go in because it is a free market. So that is what we are looking at in the broadcasting industry. Very soon by the time it is passed it is going to be a free market where everybody has a level playing ground.
“Right now there are a lot of investors that want to come in but the monopoly that is rocking that particular sub-sector cannot accommodate new entrants into the system. So that is one thing the Bill is also seeking to address. So that apart from giving Nigerians benefit for the money they pay, it would also add to the employment issue that Nigerians are yearning for. It is going to create a lot of employment.”