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Internet: 13 years of growth from ground zero in Nigeria from 1960- 1996

It had been long in coming, but then  in 1996, seven years after it was introduced in the United States, the nation’s telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) did the right thing. It licenced 38 internet service providers to sell internet services in Nigeria.

On January 1st the following year, Linkserve Limited immediately began commercial operations in the country, thus becoming the very first internet service provider (ISP) in Nigeria.

The nation, finally, had stepped into the internet age. Yet today, fourteen years after, the country is still struggling with the infrastructure of this technology.

Nigeria, like every other country in the world on its first encounter with the internet had struggled to understand its seemingly overwhelming power – still is; we dare say. But then, industry observers and experts who have keenly watched the country take its first baby steps in this direction say the growth so far had been phenomenal.
Nigeria Internet Group formed
In 1995; a year before these companies were registered, a body known as the Nigeria Internet Group had been conceived as a non-governmental organisation with the aim of promoting and facilitating full access to the internet in Nigeria.

The Nigeria Internet Group was formed in 1995 after the first internet workshop organized by the Yaba College of Technology in collaboration with a number of organisations including the Nigerian Communications Commission, National Data Bank, Literacy Training and Development Program for Africa (University of Ibadan) and Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), with the direct assistance of the United States Information Service (USIS), Regional Information Network for Africa (RINAF) and the British Council.

The Wired World: A graphic representation of the Internet

The workshop was put together in order to raise the level of awareness of the benefits of internet in Nigeria and provide a forum for discussing the future of networking.
Four years later, in May 1999, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in collaboration with the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), organised an Africa Internet Summit (AFRINET ’99), hosted by the Federal Ministry of Communications.

The summit, which took place at the ECOWAS Secretariat from 11-13 May 1999, focused on the sustainable development and utilization of the Internet in Africa, and sought to create a common forum where African Internet practitioners can come together and discuss policy issues peculiar to Africa.

The Nigerian Government then had been supported by United Nations Development Programme Agency  UNDP/IIA in a US$ 1million project to assist NITEL establish the internet backbone. UNDP/IIA was also strengthening NITEL’s telecommunication training school to become a regional internet training centre.

Growth
A report by the International Telecommunications Union, focused the period 1996 – 2009 on telecommunications development on nations of the world. According to the data on Nigeria, which the source claims was last updated in July 16 2010; users of the internet in Nigeria in every 100 persons interviewed as at 1996 were 0% and it ran this way for four years.

The line lifted off the bottom for the first time at the tail end of the year 2000. But the figure had been so insignificant; a shocking 0.3%. Between the year 2002 to 2004 it rose to 1.5%. Three years later in 2007, it struck 7% and then it rose speedily in the 2008 to touch 15.9%. In comparison, it’s North African counterpart; Egypt, had touched off the 0% ground mark in 1997, striking two percent in 2002, 5% in 2004 and then rising steeply and speedily to twelve percent in 2005 to finish at 16.2 % in 2008.

As at when the World bank survey stated in the united states in 1993, users of the internet there had already lifted off the bottom line at 2.3%. By 1995 they were a full 9.4% shooting speedily to 60.1% by 2002. Today, about 76 Americans in every one hundred have access to the internet.

Another study like the one conducted by the world bank was carried out in Nigeria in 1999 by local based analysts. Their data revealed that the entire nation had a total of about 3,000 internet subscribers in a population of about 140 million people. Internet users as at that time too had been estimated to be about a 100,000.

It was also recorded that about 81 internet host sites were already  fully functional in the country. The host sites had been identified to fall into commercial, academic, research, international and government related areas.
Challenges

Low penetration has been the major issue. The internet basically remains an urban phenomenon in the country. The rural areas have been shut out from this illumination and there seems to be no hope for them anytime soon. Even in villages where GSM is already present and fully functional some of them still cannot access the internet.

Internet Service Providers have however said that the blame should not be heaped at their doorsteps. According Victor Okeke; a systems analyst “the vast majority of natives in rural areas are poor and cannot afford computers and phones that could give them access to the internet.” He said another major problem was illiteracy.

“You at least have to be able to read and write to be able to learn to use the internet and majority of these people are stark illiterates,” he said.
Comments from an online reader had also identified another major challenge crippling internet growth in the country.

He had said  “Coverage will remain this low if they continue charging for it as if it is gold. It is only in this country that we just like making simple things seem as if they are meant for only the ‘rich’. Its so sad”.

Earlier this year, Mr Nyibo Odero; Google’s Office Lead, English speaking West Africa had at a briefing with ICT news journalists in Lagos that there was a major IT infrastructure problem in the nation and this should be urgently addressed. “It is important to make internet access easily available to people in this country and then the prices even for a simple standard laptop is crazy!”

Another Google executive; this time its Vice President Technology; English Middle-East, Asia and Africa EMEAA, Nelson Mattos also told ICT news journalists at the same briefing in Lagos that Nigeria and indeed the entire African continent could never become market potential for internet-broadband access as far as he was concerned.

He said the continent remains low and poor on internet infrastructure and penetration to be termed a market spot!

Journalists had been trying to learn from Mr Nyibo Odero and Christian Miccio; Google’s Navigable Maps product manager, how much the search giant was investing in the country whose entire corporate working populace and other private individuals constantly log on to the internet and used majority of Google’s tools before Mr Mattos interrupted.

He did not avoid the question though; his answer was a single word “Significantly.”  He said that though much has been invested in various African countries yet, a lot of development is still needed “African nations still need to do a lot to grow”.

Mr Rudman; CEO of the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) in an encounter with journalists had said that government must work to provide the right infrastructure to aid the provision of internet services.

“Infrastructure is still a major problem for the industry as the right infrastructures are not available. They have to be made available to aid the distribution of bandwidth to the remote areas. Also, government needs to subsidise the right of way for the operators to pass through.

If the government is charging the operators too high, the cost would be passed on to the consumers. Most especially, government must also improve on power supply,” added Mr. Rudman.

Hope
Experts are however optimistic that the recent submarine cables connection would improve the Internet service in the country. Only recently, Main One launched its open access submarine cable system, which, when completed, will span 14,000 kilometres and will provide international internet connectivity in the country.

“With the coming broadband connection, it is a major opportunity to improve internet penetration,” said Mr. Muhammed Rudman.

According to him, the main objective of the Internet exchange point (IXPN) in the country was to interconnect various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and network operators to exchange traffic among their networks, generally referred to as autonomous systems, by means of mutual pairing agreements, which allow traffic to be exchanged at no cost.

“We are making sure that the internet connection would remain local, as all links to the internet service can go through within the country than for the link to connect from outside the country and back,” Mr. Rudman had added.

Main One Cable Company also announced it will launch its high capacity fibre optic cable system on 1 July in Ghana and Nigeria and it did.

According to it’s CEO, Funke Opeke, Phase 1 of the system spans 6,800km from Seixal in Portugal through the West African coast to Ghana and Nigeria and will deliver 1.93 tbps of much-needed international capacity into West Africa where rapid growth in telecoms has been blighted by limited global connectivity.

The foundations of the Internet had been formed when packet-switching networks came into operation in the 1960s in the United States. Transmitted data had been broken up into small packets of data, sent to its destination, and then reassembled at the other side.

Another major broadband initiative is the one embarked on by second national carrier, Globacom. Its submarine cable, called Glo One, landed Nigeria a few months ago from Bude in the UK.

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