By March 1, 2019

Google Station: Truly Generous Or Outright Illegal?

By March 1, 2019

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Nigerians in Lagos and Abuja are aware that Google has rolled out free internet connectivity in different parts of both states. Starting July 2018, the tech giant launched its first free Wi-Fi station in Lagos and repeated the initiative in Abuja about four months after. With strategic locations and high-speed connection, Google has been commended for the service in different fashions.

But, recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory body for telcos in Nigeria, have indicated that they are not a fan of Google’s connectivity service for many reasons. For one, the telco watchdog, per an issued complaint, has said that Google’s Wi-Fi initiative is tantamount to an evasion of regulatory oversight.

The dissatisfaction which was issued to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), has it that Google’s put-on generous offer of internet connection in the country could be illegal, one that has been obscured by conditions that do not recognize or grant the NCC supervisory rights. According to the NCC, Google’s continued in-road to Nigeria over the years has been done without a proper license to do business in the country.

The issued statement carried that: “Google is operating in Nigeria without being licensed by the commission with the implications that it does not pay applicable fees, levies and taxes that are paid by other players in the telecommunications sector.

“There are several other irregularities in the structure under which Google presently provides its free public Wi-Fi for which the commission requested it to provide information that will clarify certain issues that have cropped up in the course of trying to streamline its use of short message service (SMS) for user authentication. Google has till date failed to provide the requested information, which has stalled efforts to resolve the issues.”

During the maiden and following launch of the service in Lagos and Abuja, respectively, WeeTracker made attempts to get comments regarding the free Wi-Fi from the NCC, but all proved abortive. While response was highly expected from a body at the hem of “communications,” the silence and recent allegations somehow proved that NCC has never been comfortable with Google’s connectivity strides in the country.

The body has also complained that the tech giant has refused to settle some of its licensed local partners, even as it Google is alleged to deal with some illegal companies to provide proscribed SMS services in Nigeria. This accompanied with the claims that Google is violating data protection rights, could be a daunting blow given the lengths it has gone to bring connectivity to not just Nigeria, but Africa.

Meanwhile, Adavize Alao, a top digital economy lawyer has expressed his surprise that NCC is reacting to the internet subsidy being offered by Google. According to the legal practitioner, Google Station being run by Google is not an ISP as the tech giant itself is not an internet service provider under provisions of the Communication Acts 2004. This means that Google Station is not liable to the NCC.

While many have analyzed that NCC’s move is only a clever ruse to bring Google under its control and save the country’s telcos from revenue loss, Adavize has said that the appropriate authority to regulate Google Station would be the National Information Technology Development Agency and not the NCC. He further advised the revision of the Nigerian Communication laws, as gray areas such as the Right to Privacy, data center storage operations and e-commerce amongst others are unprovided for.

Google’s services are no doubt essential to the 21st-century living, but the tech giant has been notorious for constantly violating government’s regulation in Europe and other regions. The company has faced scorches and opprobrium for allegedly contravening users’ privacy due to inappropriate management of data. In 2017, Google was fined USD 2.7 Bn by the European Union’s antitrust officials as retribution for its hypothetical offence of unfairly savouring some of its own services over those of rivals.  

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