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Broadband and rights of way

By Adekunle Adekoya

LAST Thursday, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC organized a broadband forum with the theme, Demand as Catalyst for Broadband Services in Nigeria.

All the stakeholders were represented while other interested parties such as the ATU and ITU (African and International telecommunications Unions) have their representatives at the forum where the broad outlines of Nigeria’s broadband strategy were outlined.

I will spare us the technical nitty-gritty of the presentations, and instead dwell on what I think we, as Nigerians, a group of peoples and national and sub-national governments need to do to actualize this broadband vision. For starters, it is remarkable that the regulator has chosen broadband as the next level of telecom revolution in Nigeria.

In the last decade, that revolution was about voice, with data creeping in, such that teledensity shot upwards from a mere 1.82 per cent in 2002 to more than 72 per cent now, meaning that we moved from a little above 400,000 lines then to more than 90 million lines now, and still counting.

That in the main was powered by smart regulation, and we will need that in quantum to achieve real broadband penetration. It is noteworthy that the sector’s regulator is leading the industry in desired directions; one only wishes that regulators of other sectors of the national economy, especially power, education, trasnport, and others were just as up and doing, then we would have less headaches as time rolls by.

What however worries me with the broadband strategy is neither the regulators nor the operators, who will, as we have seen, be just doing their work and investing their money for expected returns, but the attitude of the rest of us, especially the sub-national governments of the federation.

if our federalism were working as it should, I would entertain no such fears, but ours happen to be one of the most imperfect forms of federalism in operation, our membership of the Ottawa, Canada-based Forum of Federations notwithstanding.

Recently, the Federal Government issued guidelines on right of way for the telecoms operators as they lay fibre optics cables. We are all aware that as these cables are being laid, satellite connections are being decommissioned because satellite delivers in minutes while fibre optics delivers in seconds.

Now these telcos have right of way guidelines for only federal highways in a country where 36 states and FCT, and 774 local governments all construct roads. That means right of way charges in Lagos might not be the same as those in Ogun, Bayelsa, or Jigawa.

Inother words, the telcos will have to negotiate 36 different rights of way with the states, after settling the federal. How can business get more cumbersome? If the local governments chip in, as I expect them to, how many tons of paracetamol will the staff need to cope with the headaches arising therefrom?

And we have not even factored in the activities of vandals who wilfully damage infrastructure lines in the pursuit of their nefarious activities.

I therefore propose that the National Council of States take the right of way issue up and facilitate a one-stop shop that will take care of the interests of all the sub-national governments so that WACS, Main One, Glo 1, and others do not have to negotiate at sundry venues.

This, in my thinking, will greatly facilitate our broadband penetration strategy because some things which work in other places fail here just because of attitude, not because of technology.


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