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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Broadband Council and 19 wise men

ITRealms with Remmy Nweke:

BARELY a year after assuming office as the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, hinted on the need for a national broadband committee, following consultations her office held since taking over the helm of affairs of the new ministry and calls by stakeholders at various fora.

One of such fora was the broadband forum organized by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on July 26, 2012, tagged ‘Demand as Catalyst for Broadband Services in Nigeria,’ where Mrs. Johnson reiterated Federal Government’s plans to set up a presidential committee on broadband to chart a broadband strategy for the nation.

She also told stakeholders including DigitalSENSE Business News the need for such a committee cannot be overlooked and informed by government’s recognition that ubiquitous internet capacity and a national backbone are critical to ICT infrastructure to deliver data traffic nationwide, cutting across power, transportation and water infrastructure, which are crucial for globally connected and increasingly knowledge-based world, nowadays.

For her, universal access to broadband has become a significant indicator of development and competitiveness among nations, stressing that broadband has the potential of enabling entire new industries and introducing significant efficiencies into education delivery, health care provision, energy management, public safety, government cum citizen interaction and the overall organisation as well as dissemination of knowledge.

Evidence of demand:
“In Nigeria, there is already clear evidence of demand for broadband in many facets of our economic and social lives. There are very few aspects of our lives that are not impacted or affected by the internet. So, the demand is there, in fact so is the supply when you take into consideration the internet capacity that we have landed on our shores. The challenge for us in Nigeria is not the proverbial last mile but the last hundreds of miles, taking that landed capacity to cities, communities, institutions and home,” she declared.

The Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, noted the Commission was driving utility model, equal access model and passive infrastructure model as Open Access Model to be adopted for broadband infrastructure deployment in the country.

Between awareness and affordability:
In his contribution, chief executive officer of Teledom Group and former President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, pointed out on strategies to boost broadband services demand, emphasizing the need to look into issues of awareness, access, availability and affordability.

“There is need to create demands through solutions-driven applications in areas of national security, education, health, banking and finance and so on. Broadband solution will address consumer needs, and pool of latent demand in the country for broadband services would be created,” he asserted

For the Chief Executive Officer, Independent Networks Cooperative Association, Mr. Malcolm Corbett, from 1990, demand for bandwidth had been growing globally with bandwidth consumption on various data-enabled amounting to several terabytes.

14-man committee:
By September 2012, a 14-man broadband committee was inaugurated by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in Abuja, tasking members to “perform this task creditably and expeditiously.” Stressing that broadband access and internet technologies are key enablers for socio-economic growth.

He underscored the importance of putting on the thinking cap on how to build a digital economy in this era of knowledge economy, just as he disclosed that the National ICT policy set a target of a five-fold increase in broadband penetration by 2017 and his administration is determined to develop a comprehensive broadband roadmap for the country to achieve this goal.

Highlighting the role of broadband to economic development, the President mandated the Ministry of Education to incorporate ICTs in the nation’s education curriculum beginning from the primary school level to raise global ICT leaders of tomorrow.

Parents must expose wards to ICT:
He enjoined Nigerian parents to begin to expose their children to ICTs so as to encourage them to familiarize with new technologies and the desire to develop software and other applications. Drawing attention to the fact that Nigeria is in the middle of a digital revolution that has seen ICT transform the global economies. Declaring “ICTs have changed the way we live, work and learn. In some countries around the world, including Nigeria, ICTs have even transformed the way citizens participate in governance.”

Broadband, he also said has the potential to facilitate the creation of new industries and introduce significant efficiencies into existing ones in all sectors of the economy, even as he pledged his “administration will continue to give the necessary support and encouragement to ICT practitioners in Nigeria to empower collective effort in attaining the goal of 21st century economy.”

Reiterating commitment in deployment and adoption of ICT as a driver for national transformation, the President commended CommTech Minister, Mrs. Johnson for steering the new Ministry efficiently, disclosed that the ministry was separated from the Information ministry to enable Nigeria leverage ICTs for national transformation. Government, he explained, named two co-chairmen for the committee “to re-emphasis that broadband is not just about ICT infrastructure, but it is about the enablement and facilitation of national socio-economic development.” 
He charged members of the committee to deploy their vast knowledge and competence in discharging their duties as committee members.

Broadband linked to increase in GDP:
Mrs. Johnson remarked that the importance of broadband to socio-economic development cannot be over-emphasised, noting that increase in broadband penetration is directly linked to increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), stressing that empirical evidence shows that 10 per cent penetration in broadband penetration leads to about 1.3 per cent increase in GDP. She also said that ICT is a tool that Nigeria can deploy to leapfrog to a digital economy. She informed Nigerians that the Ministry is working hard to change the face of ICTs in the country and inauguration of the Committee is a reflection of the importance of ICTs to the transformation agenda of President Jonathan.

Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe in his remarks, said that the Committee will work to carry out the task assigned to it speedily and with dedication, promising that the committee would proffer effective ways to achieve universal digital Inclusion in Nigeria by identifying and suggesting ways to eliminate obstacles to digital inclusion in Nigeria.

Ndukwe assured that the committee would also outline an Action Plan to take the issue of digital inclusion into mainstream development plans across all sectors. While commending CommTech Minister for the leadership role which she has been very ably playing in the ICT sector.

In the same vein, Co-Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Jim Ovia stressed that the world has woken up to the importance of ICTs to development, adding that ICTs will transform Nigeria and thanked the President and the Minister of Communication for their role in setting up the Committee, even as he reassured that the Committee would deliver on its mandate within the three months duration.

Terms of Reference for 14-man:
Terms of reference for the 14-man Committee comprised:
1. Articulate acceptable definitions and perspectives of broadband and related issues that are current and dynamic for the country.

2.  Evaluate and analyse the current position of broadband infrastructure and service delivery in the country, if possible define broadband served, unserved and underserved areas of the country and articulate an agenda for bridging the gap between the ‘’haves’’ and the ‘have-nots’ within the country and showcasing possible challenges.

3. Consider and articulate the funds requirement for the ubiquitous roll out of broadband in the country.

4. Consider and articulate other related and reasonably connected relevant plans and agenda that are incidental to broadband development in the country.

5. Expatiate and detail additional strategic and tactical approaches for reinventing the country as a broadband rich digital haven capable of supporting electronic and mobile architecture for commerce and trade, education, health, agriculture, citizens empowerment among others: capable of attracting internal and external investments for development. 

6. Produce a comprehensive National Broadband Roadmap for Nigeria.

We’re also members:
Other members of the broadband committee include Mrs. Juliet Ehimuan Chiazor, country manager, Google Global Service Nigeria, Mrs. Lynda Saint Nwafor, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) MTN, Mr. Philip Chuwueke, Chair, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) Forum, Mr. Rasheed Adegoke, Chief Information Officer (CIO), First Bank plc, Mr. Stanley Jegede, chief executive officer, Phase 3 Telecom, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Youth ICT Entrepreneur, Alhaji Bala Mohammed, Commissioner for Science and Technology, Kano State, Mr. Kayode Jegede, SA to Ekiti State Governor on Infrastructure and ICT, Engr. John Ayodele, Ministry of Communication Technology, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and  Mr. Junaid Dikko.

Although the public presentation may have been delayed for over four months, but it was finally in June 20, 2013 tagged Connected Nigeria, the Committee report was presented to stakeholders in Lagos, of which key recommendation was the establishment of the Nigeria Broadband Council (NBC).

19 wise men to implement roadmap:
In less than a month later, FG proclaimed the 19-man Broadband Council to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Broadband, which recently submitted its report.

Inducting the 19-man on behalf of President Jonathan, CommTech Minister, Mrs. Johnson on Tuesday, July 16, said the Broadband Council is chaired by herself, while members will work on implementation modalities for the newly developed and approved Nigerian National Broadband plan for the period 2013 - 2018.

She said the team represents significant milestone in the implementation roadmap of the national broadband plan. Pointing out that latest Terms of Reference (ToR) include providing periodic reports on the progress of the plan, facilitating the coordination and collaboration of the various stakeholders during plan implementation, ensuring that relevant agencies, institutions, and the general public are actively engaged.

“Where necessary the Council shall highlight adjustment areas where needed in the execution of the strategy and roadmap,” she said, noting that the Council, has both institutional, government and individual representation. Institutional representation, she said, will ensure that requirements of the industry are taken into consideration and such these are ATCON, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) and Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria.

On individual representations, she said, comprised of highly knowledgeable people who are extremely credible in the ICT industry and have shown a great passion to see to the deployment of robust broadband infrastructure in the country including the two former co-chairmen of the recently concluded Presidential Committee on Broadband, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and Mr. Jim Ovia.

She explained that Google and Microsoft represent a small section of international partners strongly positioned to advance the broadband agenda, while the government institutions that have the direct mandate to deliver broadband to the country were also included namely the Ministry, NCC, Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and NITDA.

Special Adviser, Media to CommTech Minister, Mrs. Efem Nkanga confirmed that the members of the Broadband Council are Dr. Ernest Ndukwe-Chairman Openmedia Group, Mr Jim Ovia-Chairman of Visafone, Dr. Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, Ms Funke Opeke, Chief Executive Officer, Main One Cable Company, Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu, Managing Consultant, Telecom Answers Associates, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo-Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications of Nigeria (ALTON).

Equally in the council is Mr Ademola Aladekomo, immediate past President, Nigeria Computer Society, Mr. Bayo Banjo-President, Nigeria Internet Group, Mr Lanre Ajayi-President, Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr Abdullahi Maikano-Secretary, USPF, Mrs Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor-Country Manager, Google Global Services Nigeria Limited, Mr Junaid Dikko-Director, Etisalat, Mr. Mohammed Rudman-Chief Executive Officer, Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria, Mr Ayoola Oke-Managing Partner, Ayoola Babatunde Oke & Co, Engr John Ayodele-Director, Ministry of Communication Technology, Mr Emmanuel Onyeje, Microsoft and Mr Jinmi Sonuga, principal consultant-Business Unusual Ltd.

The truth is that the setting up of Broadband Council is a welcome development and based on expectations of Nigeria, the council has a lot of work on its table and as the mandate outlined, they have the right to adjust where necessary to the execution of the strategy and roadmap to the letter.

The Broadband Council as seen in other climes is also expected to have a structure to enable it to run and even more efficiently rather than depending on the personnel of the Ministry of Communication Technology.

This opinion is very apt considering that beyond 2015 when the current leadership of CommTech Ministry would last, the affairs of the Council should not be allowed to fade into the public sector syndrome, like was witnessed after the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, when President Obasanjo set up a Presidential committee on WSIS that should have repositioned and fast-tracked Nigeria’s development with the political will demonstrated by the former president in implementation of ICT-inclined policies over time.

The sooner the CommTech Ministry led by Mrs. Johnson realises this fact, the earlier the Broadband Council of 19 wise-men will get focused, therefore, shunning the bureaucracy of government and inter-agency squabbles, which has been the bane of development for the sector over the years.

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