The problems of poor connectivity and mobile capacity underutilisation, which confront smart device users in Nigeria, seem to underscore the need for broadband infrastructure across the country, as contained in the broadband policy. Emma Okonji writes

Last week, Chairman, House Committee on Nigeria-US Relations/Inter-Parliamentary, Hon. Johnson Agbonayinma, lamented that smart device users in Nigeria did not have consistent network connectivity and that 50 per cent of the country’s mobile capacity was under-utilised. According to Agbonayinma, available facts on smart device connectivity in Nigeria indicated that 125 million smart device users were not getting consistent network connectivity from a single provider and that 50 per cent of Nigeria’s mobile capacity was under-utilised due to lack of service.

The lawmaker insisted that Nigeria lagged behind in mobile network connectivity, despite great advancements recorded in the Western world in an age of information technology.

Stakeholders in the telecoms industry, who were also worried by the poor state of telecoms and broadband infrastructure in the country, shared the sentiments of Agbonayinma. They insisted that unless the bottlenecks impeding the expansion of telecoms network across the country were removed, the country would continue to suffer from poor telecoms services in areas such as network connectivity and mobile network capacity usage.

Challenge

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, told THISDAY that the factors responsible for poor network connectivity and the shortfall in mobile network capacity usage included multiple taxes on telecoms operating companies by government agencies, delay in the approval of right of way, theft and wilful destruction of telecoms facilities. Adebayo said the challenges must be addressed by government if telecoms subscribers must benefit from full utilisation of mobile network capacity and network connectivity.

Adebayo called on the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, to intervene in the matter as quickly as possible to save the telecoms industry from total collapse that could emanate from the arbitrary taxes and levies currently being imposed on the operators, under the guise of the Amended Taxes and Levies Order of 2015. According to him, the Amended Order failed to fix the taxable rate, resulting in the imposition of arbitrary levies and charges at the state government levels.

“The industry is also burdened with enactment of laws at the state government levels to legitimate spurious levies and charges on our members, which negates the ease of doing business in Nigeria,” Adebayo said.

According to him, item 3 (b) of the Amended Schedule to the Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act, introduced new levies and taxes under items 12 – 25.

He stated, “Most of these taxes and levies were hitherto contested by our members on the grounds that they were not applicable to telecommunications operations justified by the previous Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act 1998.

“It is therefore disturbing that the entire instrument has given the state governments authorisation to coerce and disrupt the operations of our members in order to compel the payment of sundry levies, charges and taxes.  Rather than Amended Order addressing the issue of multiple taxation; it on the contrary increased the tax burden of our members and adversely impacted the ease of doing businesses in Nigeria.”

He insisted that telecoms services as critical national security and economic infrastructure should be handled with caution.

“Our industry supports many other economic sectors of the economy. We are also the first layer of critical infrastructure for socio-economic development and security. It is pertinent to state that unless telecoms facilities have first level of protection by government, it will be difficult to provide uninterrupted services to the citizenry,” Adebayo said. He said ALTON wanted an Executive Order designating telecoms infrastructure as critical national security and economic infrastructure as prescribed in the Cybercrime Act, 2015.

Adebayo listed some of the offensive taxes and levies to include Aviation Clearance fee, Building Permit fee, Employee Development Levy, Site levy, Operational Permit levy, Business Premises levy, Building Fitness levy, Sanitation fee, Infrastructure Maintenance fee, Tenement Rate, Signage and Advert levy, Fire Service fee, Effluent Discharge fee, Environmental/Ecological fee, and Gaseous emission fee.

All these, he said, were part of the reasons for the inconsistency in network connectivity and underutilisation of mobile capacity.

Broadband Infrastructure

On the role of broadband infrastructure as a sure means of addressing the shortfall in mobile network capacity usage, the president of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said, “The country is supposed to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools to address its needs and challenges but that is not the case with Nigeria. The government is yet to use ICT in its fullest capacity to address the challenges of unemployment in the country. We need broadband infrastructure in place to address all of these. 

We need ubiquitous and fast internet access across the country. People should have internet access at affordable rate to connect to several business opportunities online.

“We need enabling environment to achieve it and the ease of doing business is one of the ways to achieve it. Government should not just meet the broadband target, but also exceed it. Government must create the enabling environment that will allow the private investors to bring in the funds that will drive broadband development.

If these are achieved, it will enable telecoms operators to expand their network capacities, provide full mobile connectivity services to Nigerians and above all, create employment opportunities for our youths.”

He said the fact that Nigeria has many users of connected mobile devices and a large number of people making use of digital apps does not make it digitally ready as a nation. “If the connected devices and the mobile apps do not create productivity and allow Nigerians to make money, it then means that we are yet to make full use of ICT to drive the Nigerian economy,” Teniola said.

According to him, a lot of GDP contributions in developing nations are digital in nature and Nigeria must toe the line. He believes government needs to encourage digital transactions that will boost financial inclusion on mobile money payments, saying one of the ways to address it is to make the on-going cashless economy initiative to be telcos-led instead of bank-led. 

He stresses that the telecoms operators (telcos) should be empowered to drive financial inclusion and cashless initiative because Nigerians have more mobile devices than bank accounts. “Data is the new currency and we need ubiquitous broadband infrastructure and internet access to boost broadband data penetration in the country. Achieving all of these will boost mobile network capacity usage across networks, among others,” Teniola added.

Broadband Policy

Considering the importance of broadband infrastructure in telecoms’ network rollout and mobile network capacity usage, the federal government, in 2013, developed a five-year National Broadband Policy (2013-2018), with a mandate to achieve 30 per cent broadband penetration in the country, up from the 10 per cent penetration in 2012. Although the country can boast of 22 per cent broadband penetration, as at the first quarter of 2018, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, is optimistic that the 30 per cent broadband penetration target, as enshrined in the National Broadband Policy, will be achieved by the end of the year. 

This is based on statistics on the ground. Full broadband penetration is expected to boost broadband infrastructure across the country that will support several developments in the country, including fast rollout of telecoms network expansion that will give rise to uninterrupted telecoms service delivery.

Last week, Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, said NCC was working hard to achieve the 30 per cent penetration in line with the National Broadband Plan (NBP), (2013 – 2018), to boost telecoms investments in the country.

From a paltry $50 million investment in the sector in 2001, the figures stood at $70 billion as at September 2017. Value Added Services segment of the sector’s investment is over $200 million and estimated to reach $500 million by 2021.

The industry has provided direct and indirect employment to millions of Nigerians and over 150 million subscribers are connected to various networks with broadband penetration currently at 22 per cent, according to the UNESCO/ITU Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), Danbatta said.

Last Mile Connectivity

Citing the recent announcement by Globacom that it would roll out its Glo2 submarine cable in the next 18 months, Teniola said the development would not only drive ubiquitous broadband access, but will also reduce cost of internet bandwidth and subsequently improve telecoms network expansion across the country.

The new fibre optic submarine cable, known as Glo2, will have 12 Terabit capacity per second, spanning 850 kilometres, and providing last-mile connectivity to businesses and oil companies in the southern part of the country and beyond.

Giving details of the Glo2 project, Globacom’s Regional Director, Technical, Mr. Sanjib Roy, said the submarine cable would be built along the Nigerian coast from Alpha Beach in Lagos, where the Glo 1 landing station is located, to the southern part of Nigeria. The facility will enable ultra-high capacity connection to the South-south region and provide capacity to offshore oil platforms and the communities.

He stated that the Glo 2 project would boost telecommunication service delivery in the country by providing economic as well as social empowerment for the communities in oil producing regions.

“This is the kind of development that will boost telecoms service offerings in the country, offer full utilisation of mobile network capacity, and it must be encouraged by the three tiers of governments across the country,” Teniola said.