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Prioritizing the Nigerian broadband plan

By MOSHOOD ABUBAKAR and MARTIN EKPEKE

Nigeria’s got a big broadband dream. A new five year broadband roadmap approved by the federal government is designed to ensure that 85% of Nigeria’s 180 million people get access to fast, reliable and affordable internet. The roadmap is expected to address critical issues facing broadband infrastructural deployment in a way that could position Africa’s most populous country to be the world’s top economies by 2020. On hand to deliver government’s broadband dream was the country’s Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson at an ICT Stakeholders Forum organized by the ministry recently in Lagos.

 

The forum with the theme ‘Connected For Growth-Moving from Planning to Execution’ identified broadband access and internet technologies as a key enabler of socio-economic growth and a knowledge-based economy. With a huge population, large-sized market and a growing middle class, Nigeria is often touted as the next China in Africa yet broadband penetration is still very low at 4% to 6%. The implication is that the country’s potential for economic growth is undermined to go by a 2009 World Bank study which suggests that a 10% increase in broadband penetration yields an additional 1.38% increase in GDP growth for low to middle income countries.

 

Increase Access to ICT Services

2011

2012

2013

2015

%Teledensity

  • Fixed lines

  • Mobile subscriptions

0.5%

68.5%

1.5%

71.5%

1.8%

83%

10%

98%

% of population with internet access

  • Access of rural population

29%

1.5%

34%

1.6%

36%

42%

% Mobile Phone coverage of rural areas

NA

40%

NA

60%

100% by 2007

Cost of Broadband subscriptions (3Gb package/yr)

N93,000

N72,000

N60,000

N36,000

50% Reduction

Speed of Broadband Access (Mb/sec)

1.0*

1.8*

2.4*

5.0*

*Actual speeds are those available in cities (Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt)

 

Despite the boom in mobile communications technology in Nigeria and the presence of privately owned undersea cables including MainOne, Glo-1 and WACS, broadband penetration in the country is extremely low thus significantly undermining the great benefits and potential for cloud computing, real-time video and IP-based voice services and the entire spectrum of e-commerce that would radically impact on Nigeria’s presence in global IT space.

 

A worried Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, the Co-Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Broadband, while making his presentation on the Nigeria’s Broadband Plan 2013-2018 at the forum, described broadband as a transformative technology that levels the playing field and gives businesses access to regional, national and international markets irrespective of geographical location. To Ndukwe, Nigeria has no choice than to propagate a broadband policy and regulation that will expand access and affordability in a way that could make broadband to reconfigure trhe economy for good.

 

Johnson expressed similar viewpoint: “Whilst the number of mobile (GSM) subscription is increasing, fixed line subscription has stagnated and fixed wireless declined. Connectivity is concentrated in urban, commercial areas; approximately 40 per cent of rural areas have no mobile coverage. Challenges in the operating environment constitute a limiting factor on further expansion of telecom networks and quality of service.”

 

A report by Ookla’sNetIndex on the Top 10 African Countries With Fastest Broadband Speed in 2012 gave the lead to neigbouring Ghana with a population less than 25 million people. Ghana posts download speeds of up to 5.14 Mbps, ranking it 73rd in the world. Next is Kenya closely followed by Angola with 4.53 Mbps,thenRwanda with 3.28 Mbps and Zimbabwe with 2.98 Mbps. Nigeria is ranked 9th in Africa and 129th in the world. Not much has changed between 2012 when the ranking was first published and now.

 

Data as at March 12, 2012. Source Netindex by Ookla

 

A presentation by Mainone Cable Company Nigeria Limited at the Nigerian

Communications Commission’s Stakeholders Consultative “Broadband Nigeria – The Next Frontier?” forum provides insight into addressing Nigeria’s broadband challenge. The presentation states: “The current status of broadband in Nigeria therefore begs the following questions:

  1. How do end users reap the benefits of the abundant international bandwidth connectivity at their doorsteps?

  2. How can we resolve the issue of access to distribution and last mile infrastructure resolved?”

 

MainOne also asserts: “There is indeed ample need for the regulator and policy makers to take the lead in developing and implementing appropriate policies and regulations that encourage continued growth and investment in the sector in ways that ensure our public institutions embrace ICT, support ample creation of jobs, ensure adequate local content participation and the creation of wealth and economic growth for more Nigerians.”

 

No doubt, right policy framework and political willpower are needed to address the the lack of high-capacity backbone networks in Nigeria. While private sector players may pour in investment in anticipation of an existing and growing network, increasing access to broadband connectivity must be a high priority for Nigerian policy makers. Right regulation is required to encourage private sector backbone network provision to stimulate the take-up of broadband services by application providers.

 

In Nigeria, the largest consumer demands for bandwidth today are coming from music, movie downloads and retail shopping, impacting a steady growth in online entertainment and e-commerce sector. In December 2012, iRoking a platform of iROKO Partners announced it hit one million music downloads in less than a year of being in operations to underscore the huge potential for online entertainment content. Despite the low penetration of broadband and encouraged by the existing huge markets, several online retail outlets are on the rise including Jumia, Kaymu, VConnect™, SHOPKOLO.COM,www.mybidmonster.com.ng.

 

Reforms coming

One critical area that needs urgent attention from government at all levels is the bureaucracies surrounding Right of Way (RoW) which has hindered broadband expansion. The cost of obtaining RoW accounts for 50%-70% the total cost of deploying fibre to various states in the country. The high cost and delay in approval time for RoW has ensured that the capacity of international bandwidth is under-utilised.

 

According to Johnson, the ministry is working hard to standardise application process and pricing for RoW at Federal level, provide legal framework to secure ICT infrastructure nationwide, negotiate a single tax payment system to all state government agencies on annual basis and streamlined RoW applications to be processed in 30 days.

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