By Chris Uwaje & Tomi Davies
Three policy guiding principles
There are three general principles in line with the policy document that we believe can provide a consistent frame of reference in pursuing a broadband policy initiative for Nigeria:
Affordable broadband access for all Evolutionary regulatory structure
Indigenous Research & Development
The first principle is to make affordable access to broadband communication services by individuals, homes, businesses of all sizes, NGO’s, ministries, Departments, Agencies and Parastatals a matter of the highest public interest.
The provision of telecommunications as a basic utility (similar to water and electricity) has been an established public policy principle in most developing countries for years with laws ensuring that that communications services are provided in ways that serve both the public interest and the private business interests of the companies that undertake to provide these services.
The Internet, whose public access is well over a decade old, initially occupied a new and elite status in the array of technology-based communications.
Arrival of Main One
Today with the arrival of MainOne, Glo-1 and WACS submarine cables on the country’s shores with their terabytes’ of available capacity set to produce revolutionary cost and performance advantages to the country’sincreasing commercial useof the internet, we must ensure a change from the “elite” status to that of mainstream utility just like we have done with the telephone.
The second principle is borne from the fact that progress in the deployment of National ICT Domain and public broadband services requires a new and streamlined regulatory structure based on sound economic and social concepts, a recognition of the advantages inherent in new information and communications technologies and a willingness to undertake the difficult transition away from current, near obsolete regulations governing their use. Software is key in the underlying consideration and solution.
Initiatives to liberalize regulatory structures and open business sectors to competition based on product and service innovation must be encouraged with regulation. At the same time, there must be a major shift toward an economic structure based on information and communications technologies rather than one based on industrial manufacturing as is currently the case.
These twin forces—free market economies and a global economy based on information and communications technologies—bring into question much of the existing telecommunications regulatory structure erected to ensure social benefits in an earlier time.
As the Nigerian economy is being remade by new technologies in industries as diverse as banking and entertainment, so must the regulatory structures designed to ensure social benefits are gained from them. In particular, we must be alert to situations in which the timely elimination of obsolete services is not inhibited by the perpetuation of subsidies that no longer serve the purpose for which they were enacted.
Regardless of which alternatives for regulatory reform are adopted, the revised goals must embody principles of affordable access to the full range of services that are now being enabled by the Internet. The goals must also provide incentives for continued technological innovation and for efficiency in the implementation of a new universal service provision structure.
The third principle is that the federal government must establish itself as the leading player for the funding and sponsorship of indigenous information and communications technologies research. The Internet is perhaps the best single example of public-private partnership in discovering, developing, and deploying new technology.
Much of the original research was sponsored by the US Government and was conducted at U.S universities. The first large-scale deployment of the technology occurred when the National Science Foundation funded NSFnet in 1987.
Web browsers are a product of creative genius at government sponsored research facilities in Switzerland and US. To become a powerful instrument for economic and social betterment, information and communications technologies must be researched by indigenous institutions focused on the unique features of the Nigerian environment.
Emerging aspects of the global evolution of the internet such as social networking, location based services and augmented reality, which are all at their nascent stages of development can enormously benefit Nigeria and Nigerians but will require sustained research and proof-of-concept funding.
Five action areas
Articulating and fulfilling a vision for Broadband in Nigeria requires many activities, of which we place the highest priority on the following five action areas.
First, we need a well-articulated national broadband vision. Today we face the reality of Internet use in the country that is beset by a variety of issues such as inter-city access and whose progress has been slowed by the lack of a unified view toward the future.
A market and regulatory structure inappropriate to realizing the potential of the integration and evolution of information and communications technologies has produced an environment that has created scepticism in the public at large.
ICT legislation: Second, we need new ICT specific legislation. The legislative history of telecommunications in Nigeria has reached a major crossroads, stemming from increased frustration with challenges of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act 2003, the rapid deployment of internet technology, and other factors which have been well articulated in the draft policy document.
Imperatives in NITDA Act
There is also a fundamental need to strengthen the imperatives in NITDA Act of 2007 and prepare the IT profession and industry, consumers, and regulators for exploiting broadband internet. Many observers, including ourselves are calling for a re-examination of the nation’s regulatory structure for ICT.
Third, we need new competitive players in the provisioning of data communications services. As stated in the first principle above and in line with the draft policy document, affordable broadband internet access must be treated as an essential public service, whether provided publicly or privately.
This is the case for other utility services such as water and electricity. Internet access should be treated similarly. Thus, the test should be based not on provider status but on whether a truly affordable, high-quality broadband access can be made available to all residents and businesses.
New USP deal: Fourth, we need new approaches to universal service provision. The NCCs universal service provision program is funded by a surcharge levied on operators revenue and is thus threatened by loss of revenue due to migration to currently unregulated and untaxed Internet voice and other services.
Universal service provision should be revised from a program supporting subsidized legacy services to one promoting an accelerated migration from legacy voice to broadband Internet services.
Need for research body
Fifth, we need the establishment of a Federal ICT Innovation and Research entity that sponsors the design, development, and deployment of indigenous information and communications technologies innovations. It is hoped that the Tinapa Knowledge City will fulfill this vision.
These research endeavours will form the basis of future commercial products and services that will contribute to health, safety, economic security, and other national goals. They are essential to the dynamic process by which innovations in technology will find their way into our everyday lives.
While not exhaustive we hope that this paper will provide additional contribution to the laudable efforts of the Ministry of Communications Technology’s Ministerial Committee on ICT Policy harmonization in helping shape Nigeria’s competitive future as a nation innovating, creating and strategically applying ICTs with abundant indigenous content and solutions at all applicable levels. God bless Nigeria!
CONCLUDED. Chris Uwaje is President of ISPON and CEO of Connect Technologies; Tomi Davies is a renowned ICT Consultant.