Need for faster implementation of new national broadband plan

One major thing identified by stakeholders in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry that will impact both the sector and the economy as a whole will be the faster implementation of the New National Broadband Plan (NNBP 2020-2025).

Indeed, a notable achievement of the sector in the last one year of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in the ICT sector is the draft of the broadband plan, championed by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali-Pantami with the support of the Prof. Umar Danbatta-led Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Unlike the first National Broadband Plan 2013 to 2018, in which much was not achieved, due to lack of political will and other challenges, the new broadband is primed to impact.

The 2013 to 2018 plan did produce the 30 per cent penetration target set before it, but notwithstanding this, the deployment and connections expected of it were not achieved maximally.

In the plan, hospitals, tertiary, and research institutions, among others were expected to have been connected to the Internet gateway to galvanise the economy, and make it more competitive, but larger percentage of the plan suffered poor and non-implementation.

Today, broadband deployment across the globe is propelling many innovations, and driving economies that are digitally focused. In other words, so many things are attached to broadband revolution, in terms of development.

According to the World Bank, broadband penetration has had a positive impact on economic growth, and a 10 per cent increase in the growth of broadband penetration will raise economic growth per employee by approximately 0.035 percentage points.

On the basis of this, the World Bank has beckoned on governments across the globe to adopt policies that accelerate broadband penetration and promote investment in broadband infrastructure.

In lieu of this, Pantami had last December, inaugurated a 28-member committee, chaired by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MainOne Cables, Funke Opeke. They were drawn from both public and private sectors. The task before them is to draft a new broadband plan, with focus on repositioning the Nigerian economy, and possibly achieve a 70 per cent penetration by 2025.

Pantami, who harped on the importance of increasing investment in fixed broadband penetration, noted that “digital economy today is strategically dominating the world economy. According to Oxford Economics, the value of digital economy today is $11.5 trillion, which is approximately 16 per cent of the world economy.

“According to world economic forum, by 2022, 60 per cent of the world economy will be digitalised. By 2030, almost 85 per cent of the world economy is going to be a digital economy because surely, digital economy is dominating the world.

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“We cannot promote digital economy without broadband plan at our disposal. That is why we feel it is necessary after getting our national digital economic policy in place,” he said.

Committee submits report
With a three-month charge for the Opeke-led committee to deliver, by February 18, Pantami was presented with a draft report of the new broadband plan.

The Committee was co-chaired by former Executive Commissioner Technical Services at NCC, Dr. Bashir Gwandu, while NCC’s Executive Commissioner Technical Services, Ubale Maska, served as the Secretary of the Committee. The new NBP has the collaboration and support of the United Kingdom (UK) Government.

While commending the swift work done by the committee, NCC EVC, Danbatta said: “As Mr. President launches the National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, it is important to mention that at the time this government came into power in 2015, broadband penetration was only six per cent. Today it stands at 38.49 per cent. We are expectant that with government support, this will increase rapidly within the coming years.

“The importance of broadband penetration in economic development is key, as this is the main medium through which ICTs can be networked to create jobs and provide efficiency to support government and businesses.“

$5 billion is required to push broadband through
Going by the Committee’s report, Nigeria would need a fresh investment of about $5 billion to be able to take Internet services to the underserved and un-served areas.

The Guardian checks found that 79 per cent of the underserved and un-served communities reside in the northern part of the country.
Specifically, North West has 33 access gaps; North East equally has 33, and North-Central, 25. Further checks showed that South West has 10; South-South accounts for eight, while South East has five.

The people, who reside in the identified Northern and Southern regions, are mostly involved in farming, fishing, marketing, cattle rearing, logging, among others.

The new broadband plan, recommended that for implementation, government and private sector must align and harmonise activities regarding spending and incentives to achieve optimal results.

According to the NBP, about $1.5 billion is needed for fibre backbone and metro; $1.2 billion for extensive 4G rollout, about $500 million for optional 5G in top 10 cities, and about $100 million for subsidy on local manufacturing of devices.

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The plan explained that private sector funding should be mobilized and accelerated through the provision of incentives by the government to reduce the cost of deployment and on-going operational expenses.

It recommended that government spending through agencies such as NCC, USPF, NITDA, and Galaxy Backbone should be harmonised to reduce overlaps and ensure optimal results from the implementation of the broadband plan.

How Right of Way charges pose a grave danger
One of the challenges that hindered the impact of the 2013 to 2018 broadband plan was the Right of Way (RoW) tariff issue, which then, states were charging as much as between N4500 to N10, 000 per linear meter. Though, this challenge is there, but there have been some appreciable compromise reached among the Nigeria Governors Forum, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the NCC.

It must be mentioned that during the tenure of the pioneer Minister of Communications, Dr. Omobola Johnson, there was a N145 charge per linear meter agreement reached with the states, for faster economic development. But, due to change of power, and inaugurations of new administrations, that agreement was jettisoned, even in Lagos state.

However, the Dr. Kayode Fayemi’s led new Governors Forum, had deliberations with Pantami, Danbatta, among others on how states can implement the N145 charge. That effort is yielding fruits as states including Kaduna, Ekiti, Imo, and Kwara states, through an Executive Order, have slashed the tariff from N4, 500 to N145 per linear meter.

But for maximum economic impact of broadband, telecommunication operators are seeking a complete removal RoW charges in states across the country to pave the way for telecoms infrastructure development.

The network providers, under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria, said that state governments should impose the laying of fibre cables on network service providers as part of the agreement to waive the right of way charges.

This model, according to the Chairman, ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, will ensure the distribution of broadband capacity beyond the shores of the country to hinterlands.

Need for faster implementation of plan
Speaking on President Buhari’s one year in the second term, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said the administration is trying to address many complex issues that will take them a considerable time to resolve.

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Teniola noted that the past nine months has been particularly testing and there is now a resolve by the administration to take-on the challenges head-on.

On the ICT sector, the ATCON boss said with hindsight, the NBP 2013-18 should have been vigorously implemented, which the country would have benefitted from the dividends by now.

However, the areas of focus should now be government spending on ICT towards an e-Governance implementation, full implementation of the Nigerian Broadband Plan 2020-25 and deliberate attention to building a digital economy on the back of the Nigerian Digital Economy Policy and Strategy initiative launched by President Buhari in Nov 2019.

On his part, the Chief Executive Officer, Jidaw Systems, Jide Awe, purposeful investment, thoughtful plans and genuine implementation by the government will create local jobs and boost creativity and innovation within Nigeria. Awe said the implementation of the new National Broadband Plan is critical to achieving inclusive digital development.

According to him, technology is changing lives at an impressive speed but gains are still far from being widespread. ‘‘Inclusion enables everyone, irrespective of location, income, background or gender, to benefit from advances in education, health, communication and commerce through technology exploitation. The gap between the digital haves and have-nots is real. Bridging the gap is the path to the digital future. Pockets of digital activity in the urban areas will not do. Exclusion limits the potential within the country and works against the creation of a sustainable and strong digital economy,’’ he stated.

To the Chairman, Mobile Software Solution, Chris Uwaje, e-Governance needs to be prioritised, which can only be enabled through a faster and reliable Internet gateway. Uwaje recalled that about 10 years ago, he advised on the strategic imperatives of establishing e-Government Solutions.

‘‘In my opinion, if the e-Government Strategy, Applications design and software solutions had been implemented, the President would have performed much better, perhaps 50 per cent much better. In clear terms, the absence of a robust e-Government with inter-operability across the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary levels has grossly reduced the effectiveness of national development expectations. Now is time to retool the workforce and the nation, as we look forward to the New-Normal,’’ he stated.

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