In 2015, Nigeria’s telecommunications broadband penetration was less than six per cent. As at July 2020, it has risen to 42.02 per cent. This was as a result of key policy initiatives to improve broadband penetration embarked upon by the telecom regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
These initiatives include increasing the number of licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCo) to six across the geo-political zones, spectrum refarming, spectrum re-planning, spectrum auctions, and administrative spectrum assignments, among others.
Facilitating Broadband Penetration
Already, the Commission is presently in the process of finalising the six InfraCos counterpart funding agreement to ensure the full rollout of broadband infrastructure on an Open Access Model (OAM) and this will ensure there is Point of Access (PoA) in each of the 774 local governments in the country.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the increase in broadband penetration has enabled the growth of the subscriber base which was 199,307,796 as at June 2020. Teledensity has risen to 104.41 while the percentage contribution to gross domestic product, GDP in Q2 2020 was 14.2 per cent.
Disclosing this while giving his scorecard in the last five years at an interactive session with media recently early, the executive vice chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta said the NCC is working with the Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competiveness Advisory Council (Critical Infrastructure Sub Committee) under the auspices of the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo on various initiatives towards improving broadband penetration.
To underscore the importance of the sector to the economy, in June 2020, the federal government designated telecoms facilities as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and all security agencies have since been notified of Mr. President’s directive to that effect.
Improving Quality of Service
Danbatta said on assumption of office in 2015, the NCC constituted an Industry Working Group on Quality of Service (QoS), Short codes and Multiple Taxation; Deployment of QoS and Spectrum Tools, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Colocation Service Providers. In 2018, the adoption of 3G and 4G KPIs was formalised, as well as that of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Collocation Service Providers (CSP) and their monitoring has since fully commenced. These regulatory initiatives have put operators on their toes to improve quality service delivery to consumers.
Spectrum Usage and Revenue Generation
To optimize the usage and benefit of spectrum among the telecoms operators, a number of initiatives such as spectrum trading, infrastructure sharing, satellite infrastructure and wireless infrastructure were put in place to drive socio-economic development. For instance, the transfer of the spectrum licence of 2X 10MHz in the 900MHz E-GSM Spectrum band from Intercellular Nigeria to Airtel networks Limited amounted to the sum of N8.9 billion.
The amount generated through that singular initiative has brought significant revenue to the Federal Government. The Commission has also remitted N362.34 billion from 2015 to date to the Federal Government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) through spectrum fees and operating surplus, which has helped to boost the revenue-generation drive of the current administration. The above initiatives have helped the NCC to identify potential frequency bands to be harmonized for 5G deployment such as 26 GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz.
ICT Innovation & Investments
Furthermore, he said the NCC is promoting ICT innovation and investment opportunities. So far, the sum of N336.4 million has been awarded as research grants to the academia and it has endowed professorial chairs in two Nigerian universities. The latest of such was the 2020 NCC Virtual Hackathon, NCC gave N9 million in grants to three top promising tech startups for solutions aimed at addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and epidemic diseases in the thematic areas of Health, Community, Productivity, Economy and Transportation.
According to him, the key to the survival and growth of the telecoms industry in Nigeria is sustained investments. He said in the last five years, NCC has deliberately and consistently engaged investors in different fora to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). “We showed investors the Commission’s roadmap for Broadband, which includes the Open Access Model Initiative, the Infraco Project, our 5G readiness and the Access Gaps for market opportunities that new entrants could leverage on in the Nigeria’s telecoms space.
“To build confidence in the sector and ensure that current investors and new players flourish, the Commission has activated mandatory compliance to the Code of Corporate Governance for the telecoms industry. This initiative seeks to further strengthen telecoms entities, sustain sector’s role as a driver of economic growth and social transformation, and attract investments, ” he said.
Strategic Collaboration and Partnerships
Similarly, the Commission has engaged key stakeholders, including government agencies and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) in several consultations, which have helped to address the issues of multiple taxation, multiple regulations and minimum uniform Right of Way (RoW) charges, as well as address other issues impeding telecoms infrastructure deployment in some states.
States such as Ekiti, Imo, Plateau and Katsina States have complied with the National Economic Council (NEC) resolution, with Kwara State reducing RoW charges to N1 per linear meter of fibre, while Anambra and Kaduna States, waived the charge. Ogun State, also waived 250km for Mainone to lay fibre in Ogun State.
The NCC has continued to collaborate with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the banks in the area of National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS). “Today, Mobile network Operators (MNOs) participate fully in the provision of mobile money services to help actualise the 80 per cent financial inclusion target of the federal government by the end of 2020. Through the issuance of USSD Short Codes to banks and other financial institutions, we have helped to boost financial inclusion,” he added.
The Next 5 Years Focus
Danbatta who was reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in June, 2020 and subsequently confirmed by the Senate on July 21, 2020 through the approval of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, speaking further elucidating on his Commission’s plan for the increased growth of telecom sector, said, “We have our job cut out for us and we will start with broadband because that is the key to touching the lives of every Nigerian.
“We hope to take broadband penetration to 70 per cent to at least 90 percent of the population by 2025 in line with new target in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NBBP), 2020-2025. We want to continue to protect consumers and ensure they have value for their money. We want to continue to support and fast-track the digital economy drive of the federal government and this has led to the creation of a Digital Economy Department in the Commission.”
He said the Commission is placing emphasis on growing the digital economy in collaboration with sister agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMoCDE). “We hope to consolidate on spectrum trading to ensure maximum and efficient usage of available frequencies; continuous SIM registration audit to provide security and curtail incidences of banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery; completion and commissioning of Emergency Communications Centres (ECCs) in the remaining states to enhance security and provide relief to citizens in distress.
“We are committed to the execution of the counterpart Funding Agreements with the Licensed InfraCos to facilitate increase in fibre deployment in the country and ensure, at least one Point of Access (PoA) in each of the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Nigeria to enhance digital transformation. Our role is to drive major digital initiatives and policies of the government, hence, we have continued to work with government as a critical stakeholder,” he said.
Asserting that the Commission remains committed to driving the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) and the NBBP 2020-2025 for advancing the digital economy vision of the federal government, he said the recently unveiled new NCC Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-20204 is the Commission’s visioning document for planning and defining its strategic goals and set objectives.
The strategic plan has five strategic pillars, which include: regulatory excellence, universal broadband, promote development of digital economy, market development; and strategic partnering. The Strategic Management Plan provides the focus for effective and efficient utilisation of internal processes and resources towards growing the sector and satisfying external stakeholders. It provides for us the pedestal for meeting government’s expectations from the Commission with respect to delivering on its mandates of driving digital economy by advancing industry growth through strategy, professionalism, innovation and regulatory excellence in the next five years, Danbatta concluded.