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RURAL TELEPHONY TEMPLATE: Howe USPF plans to lift rural Nigerian living

By Prince Osuagwu
Apart from the positive bust in communications which has seen the country increasingly connected, the efforts of the Nigerian government in spreading modern communications growth and development to the far ends of the country which house the unserved and underserved population, is to say the least, insignificant.

However, the government had deliberately created the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), putting it in an auspicious position to serve as a vehicle for this essential service delivery.

Created under the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, USPF is designed to promote widespread availability and usage of network services throughout the country by encouraging the installation of network facilities and the provision of network services to institutions and to unserved and underserved areas and groups in the country.

In brief, on behalf of the Nigerian government, USPF has the mandate to interface with the Nigerian people, facilitating and enhancing network availability and service quality where otherwise it would have been impossible.

Unfortunately, industry observers had expressed worry that 7 years down the line, the Fund as a body, was almost lacking in most of these functions.

USPF however, thinks otherwise, defending its position stoutly that it has been implementing strategies that can give teeth to rural telephony in the country.

The Fund revealed to Vanguard hi-tech, exclusively, that beginning from the end of last year, it began an implementation template which saw it  launching projects in different parts of the country. It even boasted that an excited Minister of State for Information and Communications, Alhaji Ilkra Aliyu Bilbis was so encouraged by the spate of launch, that in one location he promised that Nigeria under the USPF platform may create over a million jobs through Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the next few years.

The minister’s promise seems like a tall order because communication development is usually concentrated in urban areas where dwellers could afford the bills before a spill to the rural environment. But a USPF source who spoke to Hi-tech, said that with government providing a special vehicle in USPF which has further made it possible to quickly access far ends of the country and primary and higher institutions, it means therefore that a steady seed of progress has to be sown to make creation of those jobs possible.
Presenting a roadmap to this seed of progress, USPF Secretary,  Mr. Funso Fayomi, said that “in trying to carry out its mandate of providing universal access to ICT to all Nigerians, the USPF has found that collaboration between government, community based organisations, the private sector and other stakeholders is the best approach. The public sector will typically provide the financial backbone while the communities and the private sector will remain primary drivers for the implementation and sustenance of services”.

Giving what looks like a situation report but on which other development modules will be built, Fayomi informed that across the different geo_political zones of the country, USPF has 115 Community Communications Centres (CCC) and 76 subsidised Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) at different levels of completion.|

“In addition, we have also provided 476 government secondary schools with 100 computers, a 5KVA generator and broadband connectivity, per school, under the School Access Programme (SAP), 68 Tertiary Institutions with 100 desktops and broadband connectivity (per school) under the TiAP Project,” explained Fayomi.

For him, the CCC project is aimed at extending voice, Internet, ICT training and other services to unserved communities on shared basis, with each centre providing a public calling centre, cybercafé and ICT training courses, as well as serve as platform to wirelessly extend Internet access to surrounding communities.

In that vein, BTS project is designed to accelerate access of telephony and data services in unserved and underserved communities while the SAP projects are aimed at developing ICT capacity at the foundation level.

He said that the project provides computers, accessories and high speed internet connection to selected schools, including laptops for teachers. “Each school will have a wireless mesh that will connect all computers and teachers’ laptops will operate as servers giving them control over student’s laptops”.

The project is said to adapt the school’s curriculum for computer training, including a training module for teachers. USPF is hoping to further develop this template and activate it for service deployment across the country.

Fayomi revealed that already, a USPF project at the Government School, Jabi, Abuja was featuring in an African Union, AU special documentary on ICT slated to be screened to the African leaders meeting currently at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Since the African Union countries are looking for a template of USPF implementation across the continent, there is possible indication that Nigeria is in a position to provide one, if what USPF has in the offing is anything to rely upon.


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