Nigeria’s works ministry is finalising a regulation that will criminalise fibre damage after fixing cable cuts caused ₦27 billion in losses to MTN and Airtel. The regulation will enforce stiffer penalties on offenders and focus on underground network cables, as several laws already criminalise vandalism, according to Bloomberg. 

Nigeria has a long-standing vandalism problem that causes billions of dollars of damage but for the telco sector, one of Nigeria’s most productive sectors, vandalism can cause several hours of outages and severe losses. 

Last year, MTN, the country’s largest telco, suffered more than 6,000 cuts on its fibre network and several hours of outages. The telco spent ₦11 billion to move 2,500 kilometres of vulnerable fibre cables between 2022 and 2023, which led the telco to complain to the government that it was spending billions of naira to fix damaged broadband cables. 

The regulation will also focus on construction companies, as they often damage these underground cables. In February, MTN’s customers suffered more than five hours of outages after fibre damage in three different locations was caused by a road construction firm, an oil serving company and a fire. 

Nigeria’s telco industry has struggled with rising operating costs after the government devalued the Naira twice and a sharp increase in electricity and fuel prices. Last year, Airtel recorded a 99% decrease in profits following currency devaluation in its biggest markets, while MTN reported a loss for 2023, its first in three years after a Naira devaluation and rising costs of doing business ate into its margins. The telco reported a loss after tax of ₦137.0 billion in 2023 compared to profits of ₦348.7 billion in 2022.

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