Abuja – The Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, said that the Federal Government would launch its Fibre-optic Research and Education Network, connecting 27 universities to the Internet by July.
Johnson announced the plan in Abuja on Tuesday at the ongoing Ministerial Platform when she presented the ministry’s achievements in the two years of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
She said the project currently being tested was part of the ministry’s initiative to make Nigerian students a priority in the development of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector.
She said that the project was in collaboration with Ministry of Education, National Universities Commission, Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and World Bank STEP-B in the deployment of the education network to institutions.
“Next month we will launch that Fibre-optic Research and Education Network that is connecting 27 Federal universities to each other by the Internet.
“ The USPF supporting this project is expected to also connect 12 medical colleges, 28 off campus sites and nine federal universities by September 2013,” she said.
She said that more state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education were expected to be connected to the network by 2014 and 2015.
Johnson said the ministry had initiated another programme, called “Tertiary Institutions Access Project (TIAP)” under which desktop computers, printers, and wireless network facilities, among others, would be provided for tertiary institutions.
She said, “the ministry through its TIAP project had established connectivity in 17 universities and their teaching hospitals using fibre optics technology.
“Since the implementation of the programme, about 204 institutions have connected to it, with 74 institutions in 2012.
“We also have another programme, `School Access Project (SAP), providing classmate PCs, with e-learning content and accessories, solar power solutions, high speed Internet connectivity and wireless network deployment to government public schools
“This has been implemented in 605 schools between 2010 and 2012 with additional 218 schools in 2013
“All federal and state universities have now signed up for our Student Computer Ownership Scheme that allows students to purchase laptops using a low interest facility with monthly repayment plan of between N3,500 and N5,800,’’ she said.
Johnson, who decried low rate of adoption of ICTs by Nigerians, added that 0.9 per cent of households owned a PC, 3.6 per cent had access to one and 3.1 per cent accessed the Internet.
“An unacceptably high number of Nigerians are excluded from infrastructure that can meet their basic needs,’’ the minister said.
She said that increasing the spread of ICTs, particularly through mobile phones, could be a means through which this could be corrected.
She noted that the ministry was extending communications infrastructure to un-served and under-served areas through the Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion (AMPE-BTS) programme that was helping to deploy Base Stations in rural areas.
“A total of 54 base stations has been installed while additional 28 are planned for 2013.
“We also have Rural Broadband Initiative (RUBI) that provides wholesale Internet bandwidth to ISPs, Cyber cafes, and ICT centres like Community Communication Centres (CCC) in rural communities.
“Of the 18 pilot sites selected, 12 are 95 per cent completed and transmission testing is currently ongoing in Akure and Osogbo,’’ she added.
Johnson said that the ministry was working to ensure that Nigerians had access to Internet at affordable prices, irrespective of their economic background.
She noted that with the intervention of the ministry, the number of base stations in Nigeria had increased exponentially since the inception of GSM service from 116 in 2001 to about 21,000 by 2010.
“The pace of growth has, however, slowed even as some existing base stations have been decommissioned as a result of terror attacks, theft and vandals.
“About 150 base stations were lost in 2012 due to bombings and flooding; twice as many dependent base stations were also affected,’’ she said.
Johnson said the numbers of base stations in the country was expected to rise from the current 27,000 to 65,000 in 2018 to meet the national target of a five-fold increase in broadband penetration by 2018. (NAN)