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USPF rejigs connectivity plans for remote areas

BY Prince Osuagwu

…3,000 km of fibre optics, 1,000 base stations coming every year
After about five years of trying to link the underserved Nigerian rural populace to the universal access, the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF, has come out to announce that despite encomiums on its activities within those years, it was still not satisfied with the level of connectivity in the rural areas.

The Fund therefore announced a renewed interest in increasing connectivity access to the remotest parts of the country to help grow the country’s economy.

Part of the plans to achieve this, according to Secretary of the board, Alhaji Maikano Abdullahi included a new strategic management plan which would see an addition of about 3,000 kilometres of fibre and 1000 Base Stations, deployed across Nigeria every year. He noted that the last Strategic Management Plan, SMP expired in 2011 with minimal achievements.

However, Abdullahi said that the board of USPF had spent one year to reflect on the gains and pitfalls of the past five years ensuring that henceforth success rate will be significant as there may be no room to repeat past mistakes.

In its last SMP, which ran through 2007 to 2011, USPF targeted to provide 291 community communications centres across six geo-political zones of the country  which will provide shared access to telephone and internet services in the rural areas.

However, it ended up providing 224 which represented 77 percent of the target.

It also targeted deployment of 490 base stations which would subsidize the lot that operators have to deploy in rural Nigeria, but it succeeded in awarding subsidies for only 74 BTS which represented just 12 percent of its target.Mast-412

Other areas the Fund felt it did not satisfy itself included accelerated mobile phone expansion co-location infrastructure project which targeted 150 CIPs but achieved only 104 or 69 percent of the target.

There was also the Rural broadband  initiative, RUBI which was rolled out in only 18 local governments across the country instead of the targeted 109 initiatives targeted across senatorial zones in the country.

The backbone infrastructure project, BTRAIN, School Access Project, SAP and the E library projects among others did not also meet their targets.

However, USPF said that having learnt its lessons, it was taken confidence from key opportunities which included the country now has increased broadband penetration and is about to accord ICT  critical national infrastructure status. It also hope to leverage on the near saturation of mobile telephone in urban areas; introduction of cashless policy and declining cost of ICT innovations amongst others.

The fund revealed that it probably over estimated the strenght of execution of its secretariat which was just new as at the time the 2007-2011 SMP was designed; one size fit all approach and long term review time table, as major weaknesses that reduced its success rate

As a result, USPF said it has redesigned a new SMP which will run away from the mistakes of the last SMP.

Announcing the new plan in a conference in Lagos, Abdullahi said, that “as a matter of fact, we have decided to review our activities at the end of every year instead of waiting for five years before we take stock. We take particular notice of the criticism of KPMG on a one size fits all strategy we used in the last SMP, so in the new roadmap, we are going to give every target a specialised plan so we can critically harness the benefits and hit the target possibly better than we had ever done.

“Already we feel we have done well, but we also know there are a lot more to be done, so we are today asking both the operators, and all stakeholders to brace up for this challenge. On our own we are ready to attract the right funds if the partners are ready to key into our plans” he promised

Strategy and service delivery model
Abdullahi said that “ in the new plan we have created cluster specific strategy. We grouped target areas including under served and  unserved areas into manageable clusters and bundles to make our projects, cluster specific. We even plan to create at least 5 cluster projects every year which operators would bid for on a competitive basis

“we shall also explore a mix of financial and non financial subsidy for operational costs for connectivity projects like BTS, FOC deployments, yet we will also simplify the bidding process and ensure transparency in the competition. The fund however placed premium on service quality and power generation to determining who wins in the biddings”.

Operators response
Responding to the new plan, some industry stakeholders suggested that USPF should provide infrastructure and not compete with operators. The argument was that by providing 3000km fibre and 1000 base stations annually, the USPF was already competing with operators who obtain license from it.

There was also the issue of right of way and double taxation on operators. Some operators challenged USPF and other relevant agencies to get a legislation on this before implementing some of these laudable projects, like that of the USPF.


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