‘Collaboration, Innovation key to Improving Internet Access’

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By Emma Okonji

Issues around access to quality internet service and affordability, especially to those living in rural and underserved areas, formed the major point of discussion at the two-day annual conference of The Nigerian Network Operators Group (ngNOG) which held in Lagos recently with the theme: ”The Internet: For Everyone?”.

Stakeholders at the event called for more collaborations in the area of infrastructure sharing, colocation and alternative power supply, coupled with a friendlier business setting, all to ensure high quality and affordable internet services that will investors recoup their investments.

Speaking at the conference, the Managing Director, Bandwidth Consortium, Mr. Dewole Ajao, made key references to the headways being made in the quest to ensure Internet for everyone is being realised, despite looming challenges around the economy.

“There are quite a number of issues hindering internet penetration. One primarily is that we don’t have enough appreciation of what the internet can do hence, very little encouragement for ICT adoption in relevant areas. Although we are yet to have a silver bullet that champions the ultimate solution, the very first step we’re taking to disrupt the norm is having the key stakeholders talking to themselves. That’s what we’ve been achieving with ngNOG. And just like we’ve seen across the years, the 2019 edition has opened up engagements and a lot of interactive sessions where the audience gets to ask tough questions and the stakeholders on the hot seat can utilise that feedback.The next steps are for us to move the output of these conversations up to the policymakers, lawmakers and regulators for their inputs. And we’re seeing that happen because representatives from the state governments present are hearing the pain points straight from the horse’s mouth,” Ajao said.

The Director-General/CEO, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mr. Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said the Federal Government of Nigeria recognised the immense socio-economic importance of broadband services to national development and therefore seeks to ensure that the infrastructure necessary to provide ubiquitous broadband services is available and accessible to all citizens.

The DG, who was represented by the Head of South West Zonal Office, Mrs. Chioma Okee-Aguguo, said the Internet, as the world’s biggest library and the largest repository of information and knowledge, requires high-speed access to fully harness the benefits of the internet.

In his keynote address, the Chief Executive Officer of Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN), Mr. Muhammad Rudman, listed challenges faced by service providers including multiple taxations caused by uncoordinated activities among regulatory agencies, excessive Right of Way charges, among others.

He said internet services in Nigeria would improve greatly if the service providers collaborate more by setting concrete targets and providing annual performance reviews to show the government the impact of implemented policies.

“We need to have a paradigm shift to understand that collaboration is the way to go in order to provide the people with quality internet. The situation whereby everyone is digging up grounds to lay fibre will be counterproductive because each would pay the necessary fees attached to it. But in a case where we share the burden, it becomes less-heavy on us,” Rudman said.

The National Coordinator of the Nigerian Network Operators Group (ngNOG), Dr. Adewale Adedokun, said the internet has wrought fundamental change throughout the society, driving it forward from the industrial age to the networked era.

Adedokun said global information networks were vital infrastructure that have changed business, education, government, healthcare, and has become one of the key drivers of social evolution.

He added that the 2019 ngNOG conference was convened as multi-stakeholder engagement platform where mobile network operators, Internet service providers, Infrastructure providers, Government regulators, end users and security agencies come together to analyze key issues and synthesize concrete outputs towards accelerating Internet development in Nigeria.

Also speaking, the Managing Director of Rack Centre, Dr. Ayotunde Coker, said the world thrived on network and interconnecting the network interconnects the economy and people of the nation.