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Monday, March 09, 2015

Nigeria’s Broadband Initiative gets international acclaim





On a day that Nigeria was ranked number two on the Broadband Affordability index by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (a4ai), the Nigerian Communication Technology Minister, Dr Omobola Johnson delivered what seemed to be a sucker punch, telling the gathering at the Ericson and a4ai programme at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that what will grow the internet is local content and not over-reliance on YouTube and other such channels. 
 
This was against the popular taste of panel members gathered from across the world who were very enamoured on the social network channels. “What will drive the internet is relevant, local content. The most visited sites in Nigeria are the job and the news sites, not social media,” the minister told a hushed gathering that was trying to chew the force of that delivery.

Nigeria’s showing in the research, according to the presentation by Sonia Jorge, Executive Director, a4ai, was buoyed by a strong leadership and regulation of the industry, robust broadband strategy, effective competition in the telecommunications sector, efficient spectrum allocation, Universal access to rural and underserved population, and infrastructure sharing, among others. 
 
Making her opening remarks, Dr Johnson informed that the decision of the Nigerian government that ICT was primary leading to creation of the Communication Technology Ministry has positively affected the fortunes of the sector. She hailed the commitment of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to the development of broadband technology in the country, pointing out that on presentation of the The Broadband Report to him in 2013, the President immediately gave the implementation go-ahead. His action has added impetus to what is happening in the sector.

Here is a summary of the report on Nigeria as presented by Jorge: “Nigeria comes second in the Affordability Index’s ranking of developing economies – scoring higher than other African developing economies like Kenya, Morocco and Uganda, and higher even than some emerging economies, including Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Tunisia. The backbone infrastructure in Nigeria has improved significantly over the last decade, with multiple players, including Phase 3, Glo 1, Suburban Telecom, Multilink and MTN, building fibre networks that crisscross the country. Nigeria’s regulator, the Nigerian Communication Commission, plans to award seven licenses to regional infrastructure companies to extend broadband infrastructure nationally. The first two of these were awarded in early 2015 to MainOne and HIS Communications to provide services in Lagos and North Central states, respectively. The government is also working to improve infrastructure sharing among these operators, who have traditionally built overlapping fibre networks. 

"The nascent “Smart States” initiative, which sees states committing to reduce the cost of broadband access by reducing taxation and simplifying regulation, is also a positive step. Nigeria’s mobile broadband penetration rate stands at just 10% – despite the fact that close to 40% of Nigerians use the Internet – and the government has put in place policies to increase this penetration level to 30% by 2018. To increase the ability of mobile operators to serve more Nigerians, plans were recently announced to auction spectrum in the 2.6 GHz band.”

The study covers 51 emerging and developing economies. The countries are so ranked based on period of commitment to pursuing policy and regulatory frameworks that promote healthy and competitive markets for infrastructure expansion and have been creating incentives to stimulate the demand for broadband for quite a long time (at least two to three decades). The study noted that in the case of developing economies, such as Rwanda and Nigeria, their efforts are more recent. 

The foregoing is very true of Nigeria where transformation of the telecommunications industry did not commence until the year 2000. Even then broadband would only become a major menu on the table of government with the creation of the Communication Technology Ministry and the strategic decision of the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission to pursue an aggressive broadband deployment.    

The Nigeria’s National Broadband Plan 2013-2018 which defines clear roadmap for the industry and responsibility for stakeholders was released two years ago. A major component of the plan is the role of the NCC in facilitating growth in the sector. Supported by the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, and in fulfilment of its assigned role in the Broadband Plan, the NCC has lined up series of new licensing to accelerate broadband growth in the country and reduce cost of access. 

Speaking of his commitment to broadband growth in the country some time ago, Chief Executive of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr Eugene Juwah said: “Broadband is going to restructure the Nigerian Telecommunications industry or the IT industry. It is going to move us from analogue lifestyle to a complete digital lifestyle. If we don’t do it now, we shall be left behind. This is why it is timely to the objective of the NCC and to me as the chief executive that we start it right away and implement it without delay with all the resources that government has given to us.”

In spite of the progress recorded the Nigerian Communication Technology Minister confessed that her country still needs a whopping $3.7bn to reach the various underserved people in different parts of the country. On the challenges to government’s efforts to creating digital citizens through the pervasive spread of broadband, Dr Johnson listed the following: work on right of way, multiple taxation, encouraging the demand side by ensuring people adopt the technology, cost of access to infrastructure, and the challenge of local content among others.

Over all Nigeria was hailed for her commitment to broadband deployment and development and for the progress attained so far which has elevated her from the telecom back waters to an enviable level acknowledged globally. 

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