With barely four months to the December 2018 target of achieving 30 per cent broadband penetration, government is optimistic of meeting the target, writes Emma Okonji
Having acknowledged the importance of internet and broadband as the foundation for transformation to a knowledge-based economy, coupled with the declaration of the International Telecoms Union (ITU) to make broadband accessible and affordable to all citizens of the world by 2020, the federal government in 2013, developed a five year National Broadband Plan for the country. The plan has a mandatory target to achieve 30 per cent broadband penetration across the country by December 2018.
As at 2012 when the National Broadband Plan was conceived, broadband penetration was between four per cent and six per cent. The broadband plan document (2013-2018), specifically made it clear on page nine of the document that government would at the end of 2017, attain a fivefold increase in broadband penetration, which is a minimum target of 20 per cent before attaining the maximum target of 30 per cent by 2018.
True to its words and commitment, government, as at 2017, attained 20 per cent broadband penetration, which was a fivefold increase in broadband penetration over the 2012 penetration rate.
The feat would, however, not have been achieved if not for the 8 Point Agenda of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), that was built around broadband penetration put in place by the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta.
After two years after his assumption of office, the country attained 20 per cent broadband penetration, up from 10 per cent in 2015. Today the country boasts of 22 per cent broadband penetration, and Danbatta is optimistic that the county will attain the maximum target of 30 per cent, if all agencies of government that have specific roles to play in the country’s broadband penetration, live up to their tasks and expectations.
Presidential committee on broadband
The first national Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policy that was drafted for presentation to the Federal Executive Council for approval contained the proposed broadband policy position of the country and it emphasised the importance and centrality of broadband to achieving the overall objective of ICT as a tool for national development.
On the 20th of September 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the Presidential Committee for a national broadband strategy and roadmap. The committee was co-chaired by the former EVC of NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and the Chairman of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia, supported by 15 core members, representing various stakeholder groups in the ICT sector and additional set of co-opted members from the general public. The committee was mandated to ensure the broadband plan was realistic and workable to achieve broadband penetration in not just the underserved areas, but also to the unserved areas of the country, with good plans for proper implementation.
Although government’s desire was to ensure pervasive broadband access, its intention was also to involve the private sector to deliver not just on basic reach and penetration, but also on quality of service to enable Nigerians truly feel the positive impact and benefit of broadband.
The strategy of government to achieve ubiquitous and affordable broadband access was hinged on pervasive rollout of wireless broadband networks nationwide, based on 3G and 4G access technologies as the paramount objective. To achieve this, government planned to deploy the open access and shared infrastructure framework and then license Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that would provide low cost 3G and 4G devices for broadband access. The intention was also to licence telecoms Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) in the six geopolitical regions of the country, to provide broadband infrastructure.
To further drive the initiative and deepen broadband penetration in the country, the Board of the NCC in December 2017, approved two additional InfraCo licences.
The two Infraco licencees were Zinox Technology Limited for South East and Brinks Integrated Solutions Limited for North East, thus bringing the number of InfraCos to four as at December last year. This year NCC licensed additional InfraCos for North west, South west and South south, making seven licensed InfraCos. NCC is, however , making plans to re-license the North central InfraCo, following the return of IHS licence that was hitherto licensed to cover North central.
In 2015, NCC had licensed MainOne Cable Company Limited, to provide services in Lagos while IHS got its licence to cover the North central geopolitical zone including Abuja. The Infraco licences are based on the NCC’s Open Access Model in line with the National Broadband Plan.
Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said as part of the initiative to achieve deeper broadband penetration, NCC, as the driver of the process, has so far licenced a number of companies to stimulate broadband penetration.
Ojobo listed the companies to include Bitflux Communications Limited (Bitflux) for 2.3 GHz and MTN Nigeria for the 2.6 GHz licences.
Challenges before MDAs, InfraCos
Having met and surpassed the 20 per cent minimum target of broadband penetration, the NCC is of the view that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government, as well as InfraCos, have major roles to play in achieving the 30 per cent broadband penetration by December 2018. The NCC has therefore challenged them to ensure they fulfill their mandates on the roles assigned to them towards achieving the 30 per cent maximum target of broadband penetration by the end of 2018.
The NCC equally urged all InfraCos to come forward and access the N3 billion subsidy fund set aside by NCC that will assist them to roll out broadband infrastructure in rural and underserved communities, designed to further deepen broadband penetration in the country.
“All MDAs and licensed InfraCos must accomplish their assigned roles towards achieving the 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018,” Danbatta said, adding, “We have gone beyond the 20 per cent minimum broadband penetration as enshrined in the National Broadband Plan (2013-2018), but we are yet to hit the maximum target of 30 per cent.”
The current state of broadband
As at 2012, before the Presidential Committee on National Broadband Plan was inaugurated, Nigeria had between 4 per cent to 6 per cent broadband penetration, an era that characterised high cost of broadband bandwidth, which led to high cost internet access, even though the few corporate internet users were placed on shared bandwidth that further slowed down internet connectivity, instead of the dedicated bandwidth that offered faster internet connectivity.
From 2012 to 2015, broadband penetration improved to 10 per cent, which was the era after the berthing of submarine cables from Europe to the shores of Nigeria, which were owned by few broadband companies like Glo 1, MainOne and MTN WACS.
Although that era had huge capacity of broadband deposits at the shores of the country, but the utilisation of broadband was still low, because the country lacked the national backbone infrastructure that will transmit broadband capacity from the shores of the country to the hinterlands, were demand for internet was high. With the strategy put in place by Danbatta and the NCC team, including efforts of the private sector initiative, broadband penetration jumped from 10 per cent in 2015 to 20 per cent in 2017 and currently at 22 per cent.
NCC is optimistic that with current 22 per cent broadband attainment, the country would achieve the 30 per cent maximum target by the end of 2018, provided all government agencies and all private sector participants that were given specific roles in achieving the country’s broadband penetration target, accomplish their various tasks.
According to Danbatta, “Our current performance shows that we, as a nation, have achieved 70 per cent broadband penetration, having reached 22 per cent penetration out of the maximum targeted 30 per cent penetration.
“All agencies of government like the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Galaxy Backbone, including InfraCos and the National University Commission (NUC), must accomplish their assigned roles towards achieving the maximum 30 per cent broadband target,” Danbatta said.
Explaining the efforts of the commission towards achieving the remaining eight per cent broadband target by the end of this year, Danbatta said the NCC was working with an advisory committee set up by government to increase broadband access in the country.
The committee, supervised by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is planning to lay additional 18,000km fibre infrastructure to complement the already 40,000km on ground, a situation, Danbatta said, would help achieve improved broadband access in the country.
Another measure, which he said would help achieve faster broadband penetration, was about the harmonisation of Right of Way (RoW) pricing. He said all the governors of the 36 states of the federation must agree to abide by the resolution of the National Economic Council (NEC) report on RoW, which stipulated harmonised price of N145 per metre charge in the laying of fiber optic cable for broadband deployment.
“The RoW price harmonisation was reached at the last National Executive Council meeting in Abuja, but majority of the states still charge arbitrary fees on RoW, beyond the harmonised rate,” Danbatta said.