US Congress Moves to Deepen Internet Access in Nigeria

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Emma Okonji

Efforts by the Nigerian government and stakeholders to deepen internet access across the country, has received a boost as the United States Congress has promised to assist in this direction.

There are 97 million mobile internet users in Nigeria and 149.8 million active mobile lines and teledensity of 107.01 per cent as at June 2016 but a mere 10 per cent broadband penetration.

However, the US Congress has assured Nigeria of its readiness to boost broadband penetration and further deepen internet access across the country. The United States Senator, Edward Markey, gave the assurance in Lagos when he led the US congressional delegation to Lagos.

Markey had introduced a proposed legislation in the US Congress entitled: ‘Driving Innovation and Growth in Internet Technology And Launching Universal Access to the Global Economy, tagged DIGITAL AGE Act, aimed at promoting public-private partnerships, and expanding internet access with policy tools that will encourage improved support for investors, strengthened and shared infrastructure, better spectrum allocation, and creation of public internet access facilities and affordable devices.

In order to achieve the proposed DIGITAL AGE Act, Markey led the US congressional delegation on a global tour and they were in Nigeria to drive the initiative.

Having met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the weekend, the US congressional team visited the Co-Creation Hub in Yaba, Lagos, where they held a press conference with technology start-ups in attendance, to proffer measures of attaining increased and affordable internet access in Nigeria.

According to Markey, Nigerian government must make internet access a priority for its citizens and ensure they have access to affordable internet.

He therefore suggested the need for government to consider its policy and regulatory positions as they relate to internet access and penetration.

Speaking on the importance of affordable internet access, Markey said: “In the 21st Century, digital access is key to small and big organisations, including individuals in order to grow their businesses and meet up with their personal life styles. We therefore need good policies that will drive broadband penetration in Nigeria and Africa. Africa missed the Agrarian and Industrial revolutions and cannot afford to lose in the technology revolution that is currently sweeping across globe.”

He explained that without access to the internet, Nigeria as a country and Africa as a continent, cannot scale up, adding that this means that the regulatory policy must be right and encouraging to entrepreneurs.

“The US is working to achieve global digital inclusion and ensure equal and efficient distribution of spectrum licences and as well encourage migration from 3G to 4G, promote infrastructure sharing to boost internet connectivity and growth, and these are the reasons we had to embark on the global tour,” Markey said.
He called for greater collaboration between government and private sector in order to advance enduring and transparent policies and regulations in Nigeria.

Co-founder, Co-Creation Hub, Mr. Femi Longe, said the greatest challenge of entrepreneurs in Nigeria is the difficulty they face in accessing global business and collaborating with such businesses. He called on the US to assist Nigeria in removing global barriers to foreign investments.

The Chief Executive Officer of MainOne Broadband Company, Funke Opeke, who has been very supportive to Co-Creation Hub by providing broadband access to the centre since its inception in September 2011, expressed worry that Nigeria is passing through a period of recession, when the youth population and unemployment are on the rise. She said for Nigeria to overcome the challenge, the country must begin to pay attention to technology development. She stressed the need for Nigerian government to facilitate broadband penetration in the country, adding that MainOne has since 2011, been supporting technology innovation by providing broadband access to Co-creation Hub. “We need more of such support from government and the private sector,” Opeke said.

Senator Markey’s delegation included: Karen Bass, ranking Democratic Party member of the Africa and Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organisations sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Carolyn Maloney, both members of the US House of Representatives.