Transforming Nigeria’s Broadband Landscape

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Umar Garba Danbatta

Efforts by the Nigerian Communications Commission in collaboration with industry players to transform Nigeria’s broadband landscape is a feat that will further deepen penetration, writes Emma Okonji

The inauguration of the Presidential Committee on Broadband by the federal government in 2012, with a mandate to develop a broadband strategy and roadmap for Nigeria, underscored the strategic nature and importance of broadband. Although described as a good initiative from the federal government, which led the establishment of the country’s five-year National Broadband Plan (2013-2018), the implementation became a challenge, especially with the deployment of a national fibre optic-based network to distribute the huge terabytes of broadband capacity to the hinterlands, that were already delivered to landing points in Nigeria by various sub-marine cable companies like MainOne, Glo1, MTN WACS, Sat 3, among others. Despite the challenges that impeded the fast broadband penetration across the country, the NCC, in collaboration with industry players, was able to transform the country’s broadband landscape in just three years, a feat that has been commended by several industry stakeholders.

Importance of broadband

Broadband is now globally acclaimed as the major index of development in all aspects of human life. Also, the internet and broadband have been globally acknowledged as the foundation for transformation to a knowledge-based economy. Broadband infrastructure is therefore recognised as an enabler for economic and social growth in the digital economy. It has the potential of enabling new industries and introducing significant efficiencies into education delivery, health-care provision, energy management, ensuring public safety, government interaction and the overall dissemination of knowledge.

Broadband, according to the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, is the nervous system of today’s civilisation, and its access is top priority for our technologically society. There’s no gainsaying, therefore, that the aspiration of many nations today is to deploy available human and material resources to attain broadband success.
It’s on this premise that Nigerians are beginning to confirm the strategic importance and profound impact inherent in the recent indices of Nigeria’s broadband giant strides.

Broadband penetration

Nigeria attained 30.9 per cent broadband penetration as at November 2018. What this connotes is that, a total of 58,965,478 were connected to the internet through 3G and 4G networks out of 108,457,051 internet subscribers in the nation’s telecoms networks. The figures rose in December to 60, 087,199, taking the penetration depth to 31.48 per cent.

To put it into perspective, the broadband penetration figures stood at 8.5 per cent in 2015 when Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of NCC. But within a space of three years, the efforts of Dantatta’s 8-Point Agenda, which centred around broadband penetration, in conjunction with that of industry players, pushed broadband penetration to 30.9 per cent in November 2018 and 31.48 per cent in December 2018.

Speaking on broadband penetration in Nigeria, the Special Assistant (Media) to EVC of NCC, Mr. Yakubu Musa, stated that the notable happy-ending story of Nigeria’s broadband penetration, was also a story of the diligent implementation of a comprehensive roadmap.

According to Musa, if Danbatta’s blueprint was, however, globally acclaimed for its completeness and integrated nature, his approach also revealed a leader in tune with system model.

“Danbatta has always seen broadband particularly, as a function of an eco-system, not reductionist’s internet speed perspective. The Nigeria Academy of Engineering (NAE), while inducting him a Fellow of the apex engineering body last year, hinged its decision partly on Danbatta’s unparalleled work on Nigeria’s broadband, confirming that the rare success was not a work of alchemy. Indeed, apart from his quick action in setting up a crack team of broadband implementation early, Danbatta has undoubtedly succeeded in ushering in an unprecedented regime of efficient management of scarce resource, spectrum,” Musa said.

Spectrum as broadband enabler

The successful auction of various bands of spectrum by the NCC also helped in the growth of broadband in Nigeria. From successful auction of six slots of 2x5MHz in the 2.6 GHz Band, to re-planning of the 800 MHz band for Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, and to assigning of 2×10 MHz Spectrum to Glomobile for trial in the 700 MHz, the frenzy of activities around spectrum auction could be said to be remarkable.

And from regularisation of 2×10 MHz Spectrum in the 700 MHz band previously assigned to MTN by NBC for the purpose of providing LTE services, to opening up 70/80 GHz band for both last mile and backhaul services, among other numerous spectrum managements, the impacts can also be said to have further deepened broadband penetration across the country.

While the list is, by no means, exhaustive, a landmark was also recorded by the commission with the publication of Spectrum Trading Guidelines. The novelty attracted global commendations of international telecommunication organisations like the GSM Association (GSMA).

Yet even more pertinent to broadband penetration is the fact that six infrastructure companies (InfraCos) have been licensed by NCC to drive the deployment of infrastructure across the nation’s geographical zones and Lagos—while the remaining one (for North Central) is being processed. This, no do doubt, speaks well for the future of the broadband industry.

NCC’s role

Nonetheless, while there was a special emphasis on ensuring Nigeria met its 30 per cent target on broadband penetration, as enshrined in the five-year National Broadband Plan, all items on Danbatta’s 8-Point Agenda, brought to the fore, the speedy growth of broadband penetration in Nigeria.

Industry players ascribed one of the most remarkable feats of Danbatta’s leadership role at the NCC, to the dedication of the year 2017 as the Year of the Consumer of the industry.

When the Year of the Consumer campaign was flagged off, less than 500 subscribers had activated the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb code developed by the commission in 2016 to tackle the menace of unsolicited telemarketing. Yet as at 31st of October 2018, no fewer than 16.5 million have activated the Do-Not-Disturb and counting. The commission’s second layer complaint toll free line, 622 has also become a beehive of activities.

In similar vein, the commission has also issued a directive to service providers on Data Roll-Over, enabling consumers to roll over unused data for period of time, ranging from one day to seven days, depending on the data plan, among other consumer- centric directives.

Again, another portion of the agenda that stood out was how Danbatta revolutionized stakeholder engagement of the agency. From Ogun State where he ensure 47 base stations were immediately unsealed by Governor Ibikunle Amosun, to Kano State where over N200 million was waived on levies, to Kogi State recently where 120 base station sites were reopened, industry stakeholders who commended the role of the NCC and the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) in the unsealing of Base Transceiver Station (BTS) in Kogi State and Ogun State, said the efforts of Danbatta has been amazing.

Strategic collaboration

The strategic collaboration between NCC and state governments in one hand and between the NCC and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on the other hand, also contributed in telecoms development in the country. For instance, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Danbatta and the Governor of CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, with a view to boosting mobile money service penetration and financial inclusion in the country, also struck a chord. With this development, there’s permeating optimism that the country will be able to deepen its financial inclusion to 80 per cent by 2020.

Nonetheless, the inter-agency partnership between the two regulators, bore another fruit in 2018, when both regulators intervened in the 9mobile crises and saved the telecoms service provider from imminent collapse.

Before the debacle that led to the 9mobile takeover, the NCC under Danbatta had already made its Code of Corporate Governance for the telecoms industry mandatory.

Danbatta in his leadership role, has motivated the entire staff of NCC to achieve broadband feat for the telecoms industry and the entire industry are consciously motivated by the fact that there’s a fair, firm and forthright chief regulatory officer who is leaving no stone unturned in his march to take the telecommunication industry to the next level.