Right of way issues threaten broadband penetration

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By Prince Osuagwu

A broadband summit put together by the Nigerian Communications Commission in conjunction with Business Day Newspapers, at the weekend, exposed the flagrant right of way demand by some government agencies as a major bottleneck to bringing about broadband benefits to the teeming Nigerians who are waiting to be transformed to global citizens on the wings of ubiquitous access.

This is coming at the heels of government’s resolve at the last ITU conference, to open doors to the global investment community to come and invest in the broadband sector.

Presentations at the summit pointed at Right of way as the gulf between taking services from the middle mile point to the last mile where majority of rural dwellers sit. As a result even the government are afraid that rural inclusion may become just a mirage if the issue is not taken care of with immediate effect.

However, it was agreed that to harness the potentials of broadband for economic development the clarity of government actions and a predictable, transparent regulatory environment in the telecommunications industry would not be compromised.

At least, the Minister of communications technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, admitted that currently broadband was a prerequisite to becoming a competitive nation, adding that the Ministry was working tirelessly to remove the obstacles militating against laying proper broadband infrastructure to move available bandwidth capacity from the shores to the last mile base.

Lamenting on the problem of right of way, Johnson said that “in some states, providers broadband infrastructure have to contend with as many as 7 state Ministries Departments and Agencies and local government to procure permits and permissions to erect base stations or lay fibre optic cable. In Nigeria today, right-of-way procurement contributes at least 50 percent of the cost to build. But we are also making significant progress in addressing this challenge” She added.

She revealed that the issue had been deliberated on at the National Economic Council, with the ministry preparing to engage the different tiers of governments to drum home the benefits of encouraging infrastructure deployment.

Johnson’s position appealed to the Director of regulatory affairs, Etisalat Nigeria, Ibrahim Dikko who listed other operational issues hindering investment in telecoms infrastructure. He agreed with Johnson that a clear broadband strategy on broadband would go along way in luring investors into the sector.

“Government needs to develop right spectrum policy to encourage investors to come in. Issues around multiple taxation, right-of -way,  power must be addressed to encourage operators make requisite investment in infrastructure. The NCC needs to continue to foster competition in the broadband industry. Government would have to find ways to subsidize rural infrastructure build because operators most times invest in areas that they consider commercially viable.”  He enthused.

After listening to the challenges confronting Nigeria in providing broadband benefits, UK&Ireland Network Strategy lead of Accenture, Mr Christian Rouffaert,  advised that Nigeria  clearly articulated its broadband strategy with a view to defining expected roles of government and the private sector in the emerging broadband ecosystem.

For him, “Most of the European nations have an active broadband plan focused on driving high speed connectivity with the knowledge of a correlation between broadband and economic growth. Broadband improves workforce productivity and efficiency. The telecoms regulator will need to balance consumer interest and service provider interest. ” he added.

Looking at the Critical Success Factors for an Operator’ in the midst of all these operational challenges Chief executive officer, Main One, Ms Funke Opeke, noted that the structure of broadband market, price gauging and competition issues, particularly without distributive capacity, prohibit effective broadband supply to consumers by infrastructure providers.

She also alluded to the need of open access national backbone infrastructure to operators on a shared-basis.

This is as the Director, public affairs of the NCC, Mr Tony Ojobo agreed to her request, noting that the commission has already proposed an ‘Open Access Model’.

He revealed that “we have engaged consultants to advice on the best model that will suit our environment.  That s to say, our model is not cast in stone until the consultations are finalized.”

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