President Mohammadu Buhari at his inaugural meeting with the National Space Council designated the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) as Nigeria’s premier space agency and directed all space stakeholders to abide by the regulatory framework provided by NASRDA. The Buhari Administration also gave effect to the Regulations on Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities, 2015. The regulation is an improvement/add-on to the extant National Space Research and Development Act 2010. It empowers NASRDA to regulate space activities. Space activities under the regulation include “space objects and their control and management”. In this article, we will examine the regulatory role (if any) of NASRDA in satellite internet licensing in Nigeria.
Satellite technology in Nigeria
The use of satellite technology in Nigeria dates back to the military era. However, under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a National Space Policy was developed and adopted by the government in 2005 having realized the invaluable role and potential of space technology in all aspects of human endeavors and economic development.
Over the years, the space policy has guided Nigeria to launch 5 different satellites into outer space, each serving different purposes and functions such as disaster monitoring, desertification control, demographic planning, security control, and internet communication access. Satellite technology has proven to be greatly instrumental in laying the foundation for an effective communication structure and also served as a backbone for information technology and other diverse purposes in Nigeria. This, in turn, has given rise to laws, regulations, and regulatory bodies such as the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC) and the National Space Research and Development Agency(NASRDA).
Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is the primary regulatory and licensing body for telecommunications industry operators in Nigeria. The NCC is established by the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC) Act 2003. Section 1(b) and (c) of the NCC Act which provides for its objectives and scope states that the NCC is to:
(b)- establish a regulatory framework for the Nigerian Telecommunications industry and for this purpose to create an effective, impartial, independent, and regulatory authority;
(c)- encourage local and foreign investments in the Nigerian Communications industry and the introduction of innovative services and practices in the industry in accordance with international best practices and trends.
This includes the powers to grant and renew communication licenses to communication operators to operate and provide communication services or facilities. These licenses are issued by way of class or individual licenses on such terms and conditions as the NCC may from time to time determine (s.32(1)). Furthermore, the NCC, pursuant to its powers under Section 2 and Section (70)(2) of the NCC Act, issued the Commercial Satellite Regulation Guidelines 2018 to regulate the provision and use of all satellite communications and networks in whole or part within Nigeria or on a ship or aircraft registered in Nigeria. This regulation was created to amongst other things, ensure a well-developed satellite communications market in Nigeria, encourage innovation and guarantee public safety in the rendering of commercial satellite services. Section 3 of the regulation further provides for the scope of services and persons the regulation shall apply to which includes:
S.3(1)(a)- all commercial satellite services, i.e. those that provide services to third parties or own satellite space segment or earth stations for the self-provision support of their business.
(b)- operators of space segments and earth stations, satellite gateway service providers, GMPCS providers, and sales and installation of satellite terminal equipment.
( c)- GSO and non-GSO satellites including satellites in LEO, MEO, HEO, HAPS and other similar orbits that may be developed in future.
According to the guidelines, authorization for satellite service providers and individual licensing for earth station facilities is mandatory before the installation or use of any satellite ground equipment.
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
The National Space Research and Development Agency of Nigeria (NASRDA) was established by the National Space Research and Development Agency(NASRDA) Act 2010. The Act empowers NASRDA, to amongst other things:
“develop satellite technology for various applications and operationalize indigenous space systems for providing space services and shall be the government agency charged with the responsibility for building and launching satellites”;
“promote the coordination of space application programmes, for the purpose of optimising resources and develop space technologies of direct relevance to national objectives”;
“develop national strategies for the exploitation of the outer space and make these part of the overall national development strategies, and implement strategies for promoting private sector participation in the space industry”;
“establish and supervise relevant centers and units for the purpose of executing the national space programme”;
“be the repository of all satellite data over Nigeria’s territory and accordingly, all collaborations and consultations in space data related matters in Nigeria shall be undertaken by or with the agency”- S6(k);
“undertake such activities as are necessary or expedient for the carrying out of the functions of the Agency and promotion of space science and technology in Nigeria” .
In the exercise of its powers, the NASRDA formulated the Regulation on the Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities 2015. Section 1 of the regulation provides that the regulation shall apply to the following entities (a) corporations registered in Nigeria with the ownership of space object(s) e.g. satellites, space crafts, and launch vehicles, and (b)”operators” and “manufacturers” of space object(s) and launch vehicles within Nigeria territory or that which Nigeria is a party. It also empowers NASRDA to grant licence for space activities which according to the regulation, includes the “operation, guidance and re-enty of space objects, into, in and from outer space and other activities essential for the launch of, operation, guidance and re-entry of space objects into, in and from outer space.”
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Some have argued that the Regulation on Licensing and Supervision of Space Activities 2015, and the designation of NASRDA as Nigeria’s premier space agency bring all space activities (and this includes space satellite broadcasting, internet, and telecommunication) under the regulatory oversight of NASRDA. Some others, however, are of a contrary opinion. But from the provisions of the NCC and NASRDA regulations, what is clear is that these two regulatory bodies (NCC and NASRDA) have regulatory powers concerning satellite-related activities.
NCCs regulatory powers relate to satellite communication (internet and telecommunication). NASRDA on the other hand is with respect to all space objects (which includes satellites). What however is unclear is the nature of NASRDA’s regulatory powers. Is it overriding or concurrent? This is especially important in light of the recent licensing of Starlinks, a space satellite internet service operated by the world’s richest man, Elon Musk by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Does NASRDA have any regulatory role, and how is it to play this role so as to avoid conflicts with NCC?
From the current legal tenure, it would appear that both NCC and NASRDA have concurrent powers over satellite internet services. Whilst NCC’s powers are with respect to satellite communication, NASRDA’s powers, on the other hand, are with respect to the development and use of satellite technology in general. In other words, all commercial activities on the back of a satellite cannot be removed from the regulatory supervision of NASRDA.
This includes communications, broadband internet, direct-to-home television, radio, imaging/mapping services, etc. There is a need therefore to reflect deeply on the best policy decisions that will favor the growth and development of Nigeria’s space technology. Hence, the Government must borrow a leaf from international best practices in deciding on the proper steps to take to forestall any conflict between NASRDA and NCC.
Finally, there is an urgent need for the Government to strengthen NASRDA for it to deliver on its mandate as defined in the Act as well as the current regulatory framework. This is especially very important in light of the growing private sector interest in space technology in Nigeria.