In 2012, former Nigerian President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, inaugurated the Presidential Committee for a National Broadband Plan (2013-2018). The committee was spearheaded by two of Nigeria’s ICT finest brains Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, and Mr. Jim Ovia with the support of 15 core members representing vastly the critical industry stakeholders.
The primary objective of this committee was to concert all necessary efforts and strategies to achieve 30 percent internet broadband penetration in the country.
However, this ambitious move was necessitated by empirical studies which have proven that broadband penetration positively impacts on the economic development of a nation.
After two years of working on this 5 year plan (2015) broadband penetration was still less than 10 percent. The following year (2016) broadband penetration dramatically increased to 20 percent. That is to say, Nigeria achieved 10 percent in one year, a good feat in my viewpoint. Today, broadband penetration is 22 percent, adding just 2 percent to the following year and we are almost approaching the end of 2017.
This ugly and plummeting development has raised some questions, swelling fears that Nigeria from all indications will fail to live up to its billing. Some of us in the industry are quite sanguine, considering the efforts put forth by the Nigerian Communications Commission. On the other hand, the optimism seems like a joke, because only 2 percent was achieved in 2017.
One question that I keep asking myself is this, what and what were done between 2015 and 2016 to achieve 10 percent broadband penetration? That figure is a commensurate increase of 1.3% in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product. Were those same efforts replicated in 2017? If it were, we should be talking about 30 percent broadband penetration before the end of 2017.
Although on several occasions the NCC had enumerated some of the bottlenecks militating the efforts towards achieving the Nation Broadband Plan. Some of those obstacles include delayed approval for installation of base stations and fibre deployment; absence of collocation guidelines from FCTA.
The astronomical rise in fees required for building permits; retroactive FCTA laws that severely affect telecommunications; activities of companies undertaking road construction and repairs with attendant fibre cuts; and attitude towards the implementation of National Economic Council resolution on multiple taxation, levies, charges on ICT infrastructure and others.
In as much as these challenges persist, strategic partnership remains one of the efficient and result oriented way to go about it. I am aware that the NCC had approached the Federal Government when the Executive Vice Chairman visited the FCTA Minister a few months ago highlighting some of those issues . I doubt if there is any significant improvement whatsoever.
Nigeria cannot afford to keep hammering on the same issue for many years; there has to be a turning point in matters like these. We need to start initiating strategic collaborations just as Co-Creation Hub, Lagos State Government, and MainOne carried out the Yaba Innovation HQ project which provided a haven for tech start-up companies. Partnership like this has helped in its little way to add to the level of broadband in Nigeria.
MainOne built a 30km+ fiber infrastructure in Yaba because it was granted Right of Way by the Lagos State Government. This has created Nigeria’s first commercially sustainable ecosystem, spurring employment opportunities with at least 20,000 direct and indirect jobs were created.
We have got the stimulation of new sectors including eCommerce, ePayment and ISP and the revolutionization of established industries including financial Services and media as a result of cheaper, faster internet connectivity. Yaba has been modeled after Silicon Valley, attracting global technology leaders such as Facebook and Google CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai respectively.
One of those industry critical players in the telecom industry, Matthew Willsher, Chief Executive of Etisalat Nigeria believes that strategic partnership is he way to go about deepening broadband penetration in Nigeria. “Rushing out and building your network isn’t the way to go. Collaboration is important.
Nigeria has big cable operators such as MainOne, SAT 1 and others that we should collaborate with. No doubt, the country stands the excellent opportunity to start deploying ubiquitous broadband which lots of Nigerians are clamoring for. They have the capacity, however, these operators must be taken seriously by the Federal Government in all ramifications to ensure that we achieve the principal objective.
One of the telecom services providers that was recognized early this year by industry leaders is Biodun Omoniyi, the CEO of VDT Communications who opines that the large chunk of capacities just lay in Nigeria due to lack of infrastructural backbone that would transmit capabilities to hinterlands where broadband penetration is most needed.
Aside from the tech savvy people of which a large percentage of them reside in urban areas but people living in rural and semi-urban areas are using smartphones, that is why broadband penetration in mostly driven by mobile hitting above 97 percent. For this reason, Nigeria must not fail to leverage the capacities that we have through strategic partnerships with broadband cable operators.
It’s a kind news that most telecom service providers have rolled out the 4G LTE technologies, although most countries are talking about 5G. It is good for Nigerians, it is good for the ecosystem, and it is good for businesses because increased access to high-speed data and quality voice services real time seem inevitable.
We need to expedite actions towards the development of Fibre Optic across the nooks and crannies of this country because this would accelerate the broadband penetration in the country, with a resultant increase in contribution to the country’s GDP.
In fact, the deployment of broadband in the country is the fulcrum for other e-initiatives and ICT programmes of Federal Government aimed at improving the operational efficiency of the economy.