Post COVID-19: How Nigeria Can Achieve Speedy Broadband Penetration | Independent Newspapers Nigeria

The COVID-19 pandemic has to a great extent revealed the critical role of digital economy as evidenced in all sectors, especially in education and banking sectors. Seamless operations can mainly be achieved through sufficient and affordable broadband. Before the pandemic, there have been calls by Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector and telecommunications industry stakeholders on the need to deepen investments to make broadband pervasive in the country. MOHAMMED SOSANYAN, JUSTUS ADEJUMOH and ISAAC ASABOR  xray some of the ways to achieve a robust broadband penetration.

Over the years, stakeholders in the Information Communications Technology (ICT), sector and telecommunications industry have been harping on the need for a robust broadband penetration in the country. The Federal Government on its part has been exploring ways to ensure that modest progress is being made in the sector. 

Despite the adverse impact of the global pandamic on various sectors in the economy, the ICT/telecoms sector has remained resilient.

According to data on key industry fundamentals published by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the total number of broadband subscriptions grew 23.9% y/y and by 2.8% m/m in June 2020 to 78.8m subscriptions.

 Similarly, broadband penetration grew to 41.3% in June 2020 from 33.31% in June 2019 and 40.1% in May. 

In addition, the number of internet subsc4ribers continued to grow in June 2020, up to 1.8% m/m and 17.2% y/y to 143.7m subscribers. 

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, revealed that Internet users across mobile networks in Nigeria currently stand at 149.8 million as at August, 2020, noting that more users are expected online as services in different sectors of the economy are becoming digitalised . 

“We believe the m/m uptick in broadband penetration could be due to gradual reopening of the economy”, he said.

He stated that the increase in digital financial transactions for e-commerce activities calls for greater responsibility on the part of individuals and corporate internet users to protect themselves against cybercrimes.

According to Danbatta, “The Commission has embarked on various policy initiatives to drive pervasive broadband penetration to achieve increased digital inclusiveness.”

Last year, the Federal Government promised to grow the country’s broadband penetration to 70 per cent by 2021.

In pursuit of this target, the government collected $100 million loan from the Government of India. Although Nigeria’s Broadband penetration level stood at 31.5 per cent, mostly in urban areas, the government said the $100m loan facility would increase penetration to the rural areas.

As the country recorded 33 percent of broadband penetration, indicating a three percentage point increase from the 30 percent broadband target of 2018, there is still crave for a more spread of the technology to the last mile where every home and office in Nigeria can explore.

But despite Federal Government’s determination to boost broadband penetration and expand telecoms infrastructure in line with proposed national broadband target which is expected to gulp a minimum of N17.4 billion from the federation coffers, not much progress has been achieved.

About 120,000 kilometres of metropolitan fibre networks are needed to be interconnected across the country for adequate broadband penetration. Currently, the country has been able to cover about 40,000 kilometres of fibre, which is nowhere near enough to boost broadband penetration.

As part of the effort of the Federal Government, a uniform rate has been established to ensure that all 36 states of the federation need to adhere to the resolution of National Economic Council on the Right of Way (RoW) charges, which stipulates N145 per meter for laying fibre network in every part of the country.

Speaking on the need for a robust broadband in the country at ITU World 2017, Busan, South Korea, Prof. Umar Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, emphasised the need for cooperation among countries to achieve significant broadband penetration.  

Danbatta said: “We have come to enlist the support of other players, governments, regulators and the global community from whom there is always a basket of ideas to take back home to Nigeria.  The implementation of these ideas will ensure a better regulatory environment, even though ours has been seen as a very robust and consultative regulatory agency right from 2001 when the Digital Mobile Licences (DML) were issued.

“The spirit of cooperation and consultation is very high at ITU Telecom World events. While it is true that different people come with different notions to ITU Telecom World, the end result is to better serve our people, deploy resources to address access gaps in underserved and unsaved communities in our various jurisdictions. Our engagement with the global community during this event will include creating awareness of the investment opportunities in Africa’s biggest Telecom market, as well as guarantee of adequate Returns on Investments (RoIs).”

The ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for sustainable development recently said Nigeria which has about 33% broadband penetration, is conscious of the reality that broadband fuels faster data transmission speed and capacity, and should focus on how it can attract the right investments to grow this critical area of the sector through broadband coverage expansion.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as a foremost regulator has put in place measures and guidelines to licence wholesale broadband service providers consistent with the Open Access Model for broadband deployment.  

“When we rolled out the 8-point agenda in 2016, it was predicated on the change mantra of the new democratic government in Nigeria led by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. It is premised on facilitating broadband penetration, improving quality of service, optimising usage and benefits of spectrum, promoting ICT investment and innovation, facilitating strategic partnership, promoting fair and inclusive growth and ensuring regulatory excellence and operational efficiency.  Because we recognise the importance of ICT to national development that is why growing this sector has been top on our agenda.  Hence, ladies and gentlemen, permit me to say that despite our modest achievements, Nigeria ICT sector is work in progress,” Danbatta added.

In 17 years since the Digital Mobile Licences (DML) were issued, investment in the sector has hit over $70 billion from a mere $50million in 2001. Most of these investments are Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).

In Nigeria today, the issue of reaching the last mile is very crucial. Operators like MainOne, Globacom’s Glo-1 and others have been pushing to ensure that significant ground is covered by their services. But not much desired results have been seen or experienced.

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