MTN says Nigeria resumes regulatory services amid fine talks

MTN Group Ltd. said Nigerian regulators have lifted a suspension on services to the mobile-phone company, an indication that relations between the two sides are thawing as they negotiate the payment of a record $3.9 billion fine.

The Nigerian Communications Commission “has lifted the suspension on regulatory services to MTN Nigeria,” the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement on Tuesday. The move allows Africa’s biggest wireless operator to seek approvals for promotions and other plans to grow in the company’s biggest market, MTN said.

The NCC suspended services to MTN in October for a failure to meet phone-service quality standards. That same month the regulator imposed a $5.2 billion fine, later lowered to $3.9 billion, for missing a deadline to disconnect subscribers who weren’t properly registered in the country. The lifting of the regulatory sanction may signal progress on the bigger standoff between MTN and the government, according to a lawyer following the case.

“This is essentially another move in the tit-for-tat negotiation process,” said Dominic Cull, a regulatory lawyer at Cape Town-based Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions. “Lifting the regulatory hurdle is a positive step, and means a resolution to the fine might be around the corner.”

MTN, which had 232.5 million subscribers by Dec. 31, has offered to pay about $1.5 billion, made up of cash, bond purchases and access to its network. The shares declined 4.1 percent to 139.06 rand at Tuesday’s close in Johannesburg, valuing the company at 257 billion rand ($16 billion).