*dash NigComSat to Nigerians or land a submarine cable
By PRINCE OSUAGWU & Lydia Obot
If one understands the new executives of the Nigerian Internet Group, NIG, clearly, the issue of internet development can no longer remain business as usual. The government has to walk the talk or be made to explain why it would prefer the country to play catch-up in the world information order.
Rising from its first consultative meeting, the newly executive of the internet advocacy group, led by Engr Adebayo Banjo, outlined a six point agenda the federal government must consider if it were serious to drop the cost of bandwidth and make it the bedrock of Nigeria’s economic growth.
For the group, it is and would always remain suicidal to wait for competition or natural causes to bring down bandwidth cost.
Although Nigeria ranks first in internet usage in Africa with about 43,982,200 users and 10th in the world, it however does not reflect proper penetration because most of the statistics are mainly generated from mobile usage.
However, the major options the group felt government should quickly consider was to let the nation’s concerns like Satellite initiative, NigComSat, and SAT3, run only to recoup operational costs while every other cost would be allowed to Nigerians free, in order to get bandwidth down and achieve last mile broadband penetration that can translate to immediate growth.
In alternative, the group canvassed that the federal government immediately pursue and actualise the landing of own submarine cable which would be donated to Nigerians under a highly amortized and regulated price.
For the group, if Facebook, a simple idea and concept, is now worth $50 billion dollars within 7 years of existence, there should actually be no reason why ideas such as that should not emerge from Nigeria considering the wealth of cerebral activity and entrepreneurial drive, Nigerian’s are well known for.
It however, regretted the sad fact that brilliance and talent are often hidden in poverty, isolation and behind walls barring opportunity like high cost of bandwidth and low broadband penetration.
The group believes that the only way to run out of the mess would be to make bandwidth, not only affordable to the masses, but also truly available.
To the group, “Internet availability, and use, can only expand if the costs for bandwidth is brought down. We as a Group intend to seek and lobby for a retail rate of $ 30.00, an approximate N 4,500.00 per month, per Meg of bandwidth. We should not stop or relent in this pursuit, until we see a Fulani Herdsman, in the bush numbering his cows and taking pictures of same on one handheld device through which he can also offer for sale, his cows, while keeping track of his bank balance and payments. Or a brilliant, housewife, in Katsina, Enugu, Akure, while looking after her kids at home, is also able to use her laptop to maintain the hardware infrastructure of a company in other countries of the world”
Fortunately, these are not dreams, they are already happening in India. There is no comparison to the wealth and other benefits that can come to Nigeria, by enhancing internet provision.
Reeling out the six point agenda on internet development last week in Lagos, Banjo enumerated that:
*Certain government owned assets that can deliver bandwidth such as SAT 3 which have since been fully amortized and NigComSat, have their rates reduced to rates that cover only the running expenses of the asset. The Cost for the Satellite in the case of NigComSat be given as a gift to the Nigerian people at large, and as such be considered amortized.
*Government should cause a stimulus package, perhaps in form of grants to the present owners of the new submarine cables, to cover their investment costs and in return, use the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to fix cost of bandwidth at the desired levels.
*Government should land a new submarine cable and hand it over to NCC to manage, under a suitable management structure. Or if it so wishes, sell it at a discounted rate, with conditions on rates to an interested party.
*New road construction standards be adopted by federal and state governments, that make it mandatory to provide ducts, on all new roads constructed. This would attract investors who would already know that all it would take them is to choose a business area and plug in their services on existing ducts.
*The USPF should be primarily spent on projects that have a long life span and can withstand, abuse, corruption and mismanagement, projects such as submarine cables, ducts, national and state optical fiber networks, training, awareness, and job creation.
*Government should in collaboration with state governments, provide a duct system on existing state roads. This would help our plans to develop models that can provide internet in villages and in Rural areas. We are looking at borrowing a leaf from an Indian model where small communities maintain a low cost solar powered, pole mounted access point, from a small stipend collected from the community.
He expressed confidence that these were possible solutions that can stimulate the proliferation of internet and significantly reduce bandwidth costs in the country.
Meanwhile, the group also promised to generate idea that can see state governments setting up low cost networks that can provide access to all levels of educational institutions. This is as the group is looking at increasing the support which the 14J initiative has, from the tremendous support it has gained over the years from the NCC.