‘Hike in RoW Negates Values of Digital Economy, Broadband Penetration’

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Gbenga Adebayo
Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo

Emma Okonji

Telecoms operators under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have condemned the recent hike in charges on Right of Way (RoW) by most state government agencies, insisting that it negates the values of digital economy and broadband penetration agenda of the country.

The Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, who made the disclosure in Lagos, during a telephone interview with THISDAY, said the federal government has a fixed rate of N142 per linear metre for RoW charges on all federal roads, and that the federal government had instructed states not to charge beyond N500 per linear metre on all state roads.

Adebayo, therefore said it was out of place for some states to hike RoW changes from N500 to between N5,000 to N6,000 per linear metre, when a single operator needs several kilometres of fibre optic cable laying to achieve maximum broadband connectivity.

“The hike in RoW charges will negate the values of digital economy and broadband penetration in t country. We need higher level of government intervention to address the issue. The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami is determined to digitally transform the Nigerian economy and we commend his efforts in that direction, but the recent hike in RoW is capable of creating negative impact on the country’s drive for digital transformation and digital economy,” Adebayo said.

The ALTON Chairman who also complained of the high cost in land use charges for the erecting of telecoms mast, said the cost was outrageous, compared with the land use charges for the construction of residential houses of business premises in most states of the federation.
Charges on Right of Way are charges imposed on telecoms operators by government for digging up federal or state controlled roads for the laying of fibre optic cables for broadband connectivity.

Of recent, 14 state agencies, including Lagos State, hiked the charges on RoW from the initial N500 per linear metre, to between N5,000 and N6,000 per linear metre.

The states have equally refused to collect the initial rates for RoW and they are no longer issuing RoW licenses in their various states. The refusal to issue RoW licence to operators, has stalled expansion of telecoms facilities in the affected states, a situation that is negatively impacting on the quality of service delivery in such states.

For instance, the new management of Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), recently increased RoW fee from N500 per linear metre to N5, 000 per linear metre, and a single telecoms operator needs RoW covering thousands of kilometres.
The state agencies that hiked RoW charges include:

the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), State Information Technology Agency (SITA) of Ondo, Cross River State Infrastructure Safety and Regulatory Agency (CRISRA), Kogi State Environmental Protection Board and Kano State Urban Planning and Development Authority.

Others are: Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KSIRS), Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA), Osun State Ministry of Environment and Sanitation, Anambra State Internal Revenue Services, Enugu State Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Adamawa State Ministry of Environment, Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission (Imo ENTRACO), Kebbi State Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals and Gombe State Internal Revenue Board.

Special Adviser on Innovation and Technology to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, Mr. Tunbosun Alake, told THISDAY that there was need for smart regulation of telecoms operations in the state without having negative effect on service quality in telecoms delivery.
According to him, “The issue of Right of Way has always been a challenge between state governments and telecoms operators who seek permission on RoW to expand their networks and infrastructure.

“There is this belief surrounding the telecoms sector that state governments see the telecoms sector as a cash-cow that they should milk dry, but that is not the thinking of government. In Lagos, the government sees telecoms as critical source of infrastructure for the state, which needs smart regulation so that telecoms operators do not take undue advantage of the citizens, hence the need for balancing.”

70% Broadband Target by 2025 Unrealistic, Telcos Insist

Following last month’s inauguration of a broadband committee with a mandate to develop the 2020 – 2025 National Broadband Plan, targeted at achieving 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025, telecoms operators have said unless the federal government addresses the issue of limited broadband infrastructure in the country, it will be a mirage to achieve the target.
Telecoms operators were of the view that the federal government was not given enough attention and priority to telecoms development in the country, especially in the area of broadband infrastructure development and broadband penetration.
They called for more collaboration between Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government, in order to achieve more in the area of broadband infrastructure development.

Citing the 2020 budget, the telecoms operators said telecoms was taking back stage in the country’s budget and called on the federal government to pay more attention to telecoms development in the country.
The Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said state governments must look beyond the telecoms sector to raise their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), in order to enable telecoms operators to expand their networks without restrictions from state government agencies.

Adebayo, who expressed dissatisfaction about the less than 10 per cent utilisation of the total broadband capacities in the country from all the broadband companies that have landed their submarine cables at the shores of the country, called on the federal government to develop a national broadband backbone that would transmit broadband capacities from the shores of the country to the hinterlands, where demand for broadband services is equally high.

He insisted that it would be difficult for the country to achieve 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025, if the issue of broadband infrastructure was not addressed.

In the same vein, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator had said Nigeria needed to double its current $68 billion telecoms investment to $136 billion, in order to address the existing telecoms infrastructure deficit in the country.
The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta made the disclosure in Kano recently.

According to Danbatta, Nigeria has huge bandwidth capacity of submarine cable landings on the shores of Lagos, but that the country cannot boast of ubiquitous broadband infrastructure in the hinterlands, because of inadequate telecoms infrastructure to transmit and distribute broadband capacities from the shores of the country to the hinterlands.

According fo Danbatta, more than 60 Tera bits per second (60Tbps) bandwidth capacity of submarine cable landings from submarine cable operators like MainOne, Glo1, MTN WACS, and SAT 3, are on the shores of Lagos, yet Nigeria uses less than 10 per of the 60 Tbps capacity as a result of infrastructure deficit.

“More than 60 Tera bits per second (60Tbps) bandwidth capacity of submarine cable landings are on the shores of Lagos. Operators and the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) have laid over 42,000 km of intercity fibre. Sub-optimal intercity fibre capacity utilisation exist due to duplications of some routes. Internet access is mainly through wireless infrastructure, and more than 40,000 Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) are broadband enablers, yet Nigeria is underutilising its huge broadband capacities sitting at the shores of Lagos for lack of sufficient telecoms infrastructure,” Danbatta said.

Adebayo, had in different telecoms fora, highlighted the challenges of the telecoms industry to include: Multiple Taxation, Multiple Regulations, and Right of Way (RoW) Charges, Electric Power Supply and Vandalism of Infrastructure, and Scarcity of Foreign Exchange. According to him, the challenges continued to increase telecoms capital expenditure (CapEx), which he said, may compel telecoms operators to transfer such additional cost to the end users who are the telecoms subscribers. He therefore called on the Federal Government to rise up to the challenges and deal with them appropriately.