Mitigated broadband penetration

While plans have been ongoing for more than seven years to provide the necessary infrastructure to bring Internet connectivity to the last mile, no implementation has taken place By Oguche Timothy

Desire to ensure broadband connectivity in Nigeria attained a level of extending services to the rural areas, the Goodluck Jonathan led federal government, in  2013, through the Presidential Committee on Broadband,  developed a five-year strategy to drive internet and broadband penetration and scale up the nation’s broadband growth by 30 percent.

Seven years after, the plan and frameworks put in place to ensure the spread of broadband infrastructure across the country have remained in limbo.

The vision behind the Nigerian broadband plan seeks to accelerate high speed internet and mass broadband access, and as a result prompt socio-economic growth for the nation and prosperity for its citizens in addition to removing barriers to expanding services to the mass market for deeper penetration and adoption.

Nigeria, with over 200 million citizens, is a mobile first country as communications are carried out by about 184.4 million subscribers to telecommunication services on mobile devices.

One of the driving forces of mobile penetration in Nigeria is the availability and affordability of mobile devices in the country.

Meanwhile, submarine broadband cable investments by private concerns like Mainone, Glo 1, West African Cable System,WACS and NITEL’s Sat 3, have a volume of terabytes lying fallow on the shores of Lagos while the country struggles fruitlessly to achieve last mile deployment. Broadband service providers have attributed this to the inability of the Federal and state governments to harmonise the  Right of Way (RoW) levies that give operators access to deploy services. This is even when “Broadband for all” is a concept that is catching on in many developed countries. The National Economic Council (NEC) RoW guideline stipulates N145 per metre for laying  fibre  network in every part of the country.  But it is observed that states have arbitrarily fixed their own charges which range between N1,500 and N6000.While states like Rivers and Abia, charge N1,500 and N2,000 respectively, others like Lagos, Delta and Ogun charge up to N5840, N4,600 and N6,500 respectively. Yet,  only a paltry 38,000 km fibre out of about 120,000 km of fibre network  required for pervasive coverage has been deployed in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s mobile phone Internet user penetration stood at 27.9 per cent based on estimates provided by Statista.

To support the increasing demand for Internet services, the first National Broadband Plan (2013 – 2018) hinged on the ways to ensure that Nigerians irrespective of their locations have unfettered access to broadband infrastructure.

As of 2018, a total of six infrastructural companies were licensed by the NCC, one in each geopolitical zone, as part of its strategy to enhance broadband penetration in the country.

However, the last infraco for the North Central region has not been named yet.

MainOne, got the approval in 2017 to deploy infrastructure across Lagos State and had already announced plans to invest N25bn to deploy 2,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable that would connect all the local government areas, in three years.

Raeana Nigeria Limited received the licence for South South zone, O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for the South-West region, Fleeks Network Limited for the North West, Brinks Integrated Solutions for the North West and Zinox Technologies for the South East Zone.

The Infraco model will ensure that the companies deploy their infrastructure for a five-year period and provide wholesale services to others to ensure that the last-mile connectivity is achieved and people in rural and under-served communities are reached with Internet services.

Highlighting the importance of the broadband infrastructure at an industry event recently, the Executive Vice- Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said that the infracos had the mandate to deploy metro and intercity fibre and broadband point of access with a minimum capacity of 10 gigabyte per second across the 774 Local Government Areas of Nigeria.

“With the development of Smart Cities Key Performance Indicators by the ITU, it is imperative to have a pervasive and ubiquitous broadband infrastructure across all our towns and cities to achieve the objectives of making them smart,” Danbatta said.

He pledged the commitment of the NCC to ensuring that all citizens of Nigeria had access to affordable broadband connection irrespective of location.

This assurance, according to Danbatta, was based on the digital transformation agenda of the Federal Government anchored on availability, accessibility and affordability of broadband.

To ensure expeditious action on the broadband penetration across the states of Nigeria, Danbatta added, “We have put in place Broadband Implementation Committee to monitor full implementation of the Infraco Projects within the four-year implementation plan.”

Meanwhile, the project, which has a Public Private Partnership arrangement, will be supported by N65bn subsidy to augment the capital expenditure of the infracos.

However, it was gathered that the subsidy arrangement, which was ready one year ago is still waiting the approval of the Nigerian President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

The President, Association of Telecommunications Company of Nigeria, Mr Olusola Teniola, said the expensive right of way, multiple taxes and forex scarcity were creating bottlenecks for operators to expand broadband infrastructure across the country.

According to him, access to forex to import equipment for base stations and towers from other countries is difficult as the government has not prioritised forex to telecoms industry.

“In terms of 4G in Nigeria, the situation we find ourselves in is that over the last eighteen months, there hasn’t been any significant investment in rolling out networks, including 4G,” Teniola said.

He stated that the issue of destruction of telecoms infrastructure and theft were major challenges.

He said, “In fact, it is one of the biggest inhibitors because it actually dissuades investors from coming to this country as it demonstrates that we do not have security in place.

“If unwarranted destruction of infrastructure is prevalent in any society, no Foreign Direct Investment and no investor would feel safe to bring in money to develop the country.”

Highlighting sectoral challenges recently, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommumications Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, said operators were regularly faced with access denial or exorbitant cost of Right of Way by state governments, vandalism of telecom infrastructure, poor or lack of access to public electricity to run telecom operations.

Others, according to him, are multiple taxations and regulations.

He said there was a need for an executive order to protect telecom infrastructure as well as a national digital policy.

Following the expiration of the 2013-2018 National Broadband Plan, a new plan had been designed in partnership with the Government of the United Kingdom.

The draft report was submitted by the Chairman of the Committee, Ms Funke Opeke, to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, last week.

The Committee is co-chaired by a former Executive Commissioner Technical Services at NCC, Dr Bashir Gwandu,  while NCC’s Executive Commissioner Technical Services, Ubale Maska, is the secretary of the committee.

Pantami inaugurated the committee on  December 16, 2019 to develop a new National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 that would be a guiding template for further development of the telecommunications sector.

The  2013-2018 National Broadband Plan was designed to achieve at least 30 per cent broadband penetration in Nigeria while new plan aims to extend the penetration to 70 per cent.

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