Last week, telecommunications stakeholders gathered in Abuja to deliberate and strategise on ways of achieving accelerated implementation of the new Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2020-2025.
The first stakeholders’ consultation with the industry players held under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy harped on the need for collaboration between the public and private stakeholders to achieve the national target of 70 per cent broadband penetration, as provided in the NNBP.
Actualising 70% Broadband Target
Addressing the forum, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the Commission is embarking on necessary regulatory measures to actualise the targets in the national broadband policy.
“As a Commission, we are seeking collaborative action for the implementation of the plan and the NDEPS. The Commission will continue to facilitate necessary regulatory measures for the deployment of fibre infrastructure to all parts of the country, which is crucial for pervasive broadband penetration that we are all working to achieve,” Danbatta said.
He stated that while steady progress has been made with 54,724, kilometer of fibre so far deployed across the country, spirited efforts are being made by the Commission not only to increase this milestone in fibre infrastructure but also ensure their maximum protection by working with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to stem the spate of infrastructure vandalism. NCC together with the telecom operators hopes to lay additional 120,000 kilometres optic fibre cable across the country.
Earlier, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Ibrahim Pantami who engaged relevant industry players and agencies under the Ministry, said the stakeholder consultative forum was important to the government as it provides the opportunity “to bring all the stakeholders on the same page for effective implementation of the NNBP 2020-2025,” adding that the achievement of the targets in the plan needs the support and full engagement of all stakeholders.
“So far, the journey for broadband penetration in Nigeria has been quite commendable and with the steady growth we are making, we are hopeful that our digital economy drive will be actualized. It is, however, important to bear in mind that broadband penetration, access to smartphones, development of digital identity ecosystem and biometric verification of bank accounts, are four key elements that can drive the digital economy,” he said.
While asking the industry stakeholders who participated at the forum physically and virtually to come up with ideas on areas where attention should be given by the government to accelerate broadband penetration, the Minister talked about various ongoing policy initiatives aimed at creating an enabling environment for industry players towards pervasive deployment of broadband infrastructure.
He added that the success of National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) is also contingent on effective implementation of the broadband plan.
Broadband Infrastructure Funding
According to Danbatta, NCC’s initiative to license Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to bridge existing gaps will further improve not only broadband penetration but the quality of broadband experience. “The Commission is in the process of finalising the six InfraCos Counterpart Funding Agreement to galvanise the full rollout of broadband infrastructure on an Open Access Model (OAM) aimed at enhancing digital transformation and this will ensure there is Point of Access in each of the 774 local governments in the country.
“The result of this initiative is that apart from meeting and surpassing the 30 percent broadband penetration in December, 2018, in line with the NBP 2013-2018 target, NCC increased broadband penetration from less than 6 percent in 2015 to 43.30 percent by August 2020.
“This translates to 82, 653,247 broadband subscriptions in the country as of August, 2020. These measures have been very instrumental to the emergence and survival of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that have had to ride on the backbone of telecoms infrastructure during this pandemic.”
The EVC noted that between 2015 and 2020, much has been done to put Nigeria on the global map of nations that are electronically driven while delivering financial intermediation. “Together with our stakeholders from the banking sector, the NCC is actively involved in the application of various electronic portals that continue to drive transactions off banking floor and onto handheld devices or personal computers.
“The NCC, through its interventions, has continued to lift the Nigerian economy and create momentum and hope for financial inclusion based on the seamless implementation of the Commission’s Strategic Vision Plan,” Danbatta further said.
Stakeholders Call for Buy-in
Industry stakeholders led by the President of Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Olusola Teniola, advocated the need for buy-in by the operators and key stakeholders in the broadband vision and implementation drive of the government.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Chairman, Broadband Implementation Steering Committee (BISC) and Executive Commissioner, Technical Services at NCC, Ubale Maska, stated that the main purpose of the consultation is to present the key provisions of the new national broadband plan in terms of its set targets, pillars, recommended initiatives, implementation timelines, responsibility matrix, governance structure and the various roles expected to be played by all stakeholders in the implementation of the plan, especially the key industry players.
Nigeria’s Broadband Aspirations
Bridging digital divide through broadband development will result in job creation and increase in the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the country as well as increase digital economic activities across all the sectors of the economy such as e-commerce, digital financial services, e-health, e-transport, e-agriculture, e-education, e-security and so on.
The NNBP 2020-2025 launched on March 19, 2020 by President Mohammadu Buhari will ensure rapid rollout of broadband services to address various socio-economic challenges faced by the country, including the need to grow the economy, create jobs, rapidly expand the tax base, and improve digital literacy and educational standards.
It will help also address identity management and security challenges through the effective use of technology, increase financial inclusion and deliver a broad range of services to its people to improve the quality of life and work towards attainment of Social Development Goals set by the United Nations for 2030.
The new Broadband Plan is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria of a minimum 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90 per cent of the population by 2025 at a price not more than N390per 1GB of data, i.e. 2 per cent of median income or 1 per cent of minimum wage.
The Broadband Plan shows that internet services in the country are currently provided on 2G, 3G, and increasingly 4G mobile networks. However, though 4G coverage is available to 37 per cent of the population, download speeds in the country are noted to be generally uncompetitive with other countries in the same income bracket.
Given the current state of technology, development and applications of broadband technology, the 43.30 per cent penetration achievement lags the aspiration of the country as the developed world marches towards widespread deployment of 5G technologies, while Nigeria is yet to achieve significant 4G coverage and adoption.
The Four Pillars
The Plan recommends four critical pillars ranging from Infrastructure, Policy, Demand drivers and Funding and Incentives. The Plan relies on being led and funded by the private sector to ensure its realisation, coupled with appropriate incentives from government. This would require better alignment of interests between industry players and the government to achieve optimal success.
The NNBP 2020-2025 reveals that government will be required to provide necessary incentives to private sector players and to create a more enabling environment for existing operators and potential new investors to drive additional investment into broadband infrastructure and services in the country.
The Plan remains ambitious given the capital requirements estimated at a range of $3.5- $5 billion to achieve effective execution over the five year period of 2020 – 2025 and can only be achieved if government and private sector align and harmonise activities regarding spending and incentives to achieve optimal results.