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Google Station prickles Nigeria's tech regulator

Google Station prickles Nigeria's tech regulator

Google has thrown its full weight behind Google Station, its free public Wi-Fi service currently live in Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria.

In July 2018 Google officially launched Google Station in Nigeria.

The country's vice president Yemi Osibanjo attended the launch and at the event, Google stated that the service will connect "millions of users" via 200 Wi-Fi hotspots spread across five cities in Nigeria within one year.

Local media outlets have now reported that according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Google Station could be operating illegally and is not open for regulation.

In a letter from the NCC to the office of Nigeria's Vice President, the regulator said Google Station has caused great concerns in the industry "because of the threat to the investment made by existing telecom operators and privacy issues occasioned by the internet giant's mode of operation".

The letter was signed on behalf of NCC's executive vice chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta by the executive commissioner (stakeholder management), Sunday Dare, and was sent to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) under the Office of the Vice President.

NCC said: "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 telecommunication 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 usage 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."

Nnamdi Nwokike, NCC Director of Public Affairs, declined to comment and said: "I cannot confirm or deny this development because NCC has not issued any public statement on it."

'NCC has no case'

Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of the non-profit African Institution of Technology, said Google Station is a positive initiative. "Largely, there is no element of fairness or objectivity to call the Google initiative illegal... Unless there is a law in Nigeria that says nothing can be given free, at scale, NCC, the industry regulator, has no case."

Google stated: "Google Station is operating legally in Nigeria. We are liaising with all parties to clarify all issues."

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