By Emeka Aginam
For Nigeria to development the requisite broadband needed for digital economy, the Chief Executive of Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Willsher , has said that the Ministry of Communications Technology and the Nigerian telecommunications regulatory agency , the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) must put in place policy and regulatory interventions to address challenges affecting broadband development in Nigeria.
Willsher who spoke at the just concluded 2015 Commonwealth Broadband forum held in Abuja identified the current situation where most of the telecommunication sector revenues and profits go to one operator while others struggle to survive, as a major factor largely responsible for the broadband investment deficit and resultant low broadband penetration in Nigeria.
He also identified inadequate spectrum to support broadband deployment as a key challenge in the provision of broadband services in Nigeria.
‘Mobile broadband is clearly Nigeria’s best route towards achieving its broadband coverage objectives given the high cost associated with fixed broadband. The most valuable coverage spectrum is underutilized with the sub-optimal use of the 800MHz spectrum and the delays being experienced in the freeing up of the 700MHz spectrum. Clearly, Nigeria will be unable to meet the June 17th 2015 deadline set by the ITU to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting.’ Willsher said.
Nigeria, he observed, has underperformed in the area of broadband development in comparison to its peers.
‘Nigeria’s mobile broadband penetration stands at 10.1% while the average for peer countries in Africa is 30%. Peer countries have an average Smartphone penetration of 26% while Nigeria’s Smartphone penetration averages 12%,’ he said.
Calling for tailor-made regulations to enable unprofitable operators compete more favourably in order to attract a greater share of the currently lopsided value in the industry, he said that, ‘it is perfectly normal to have asymmetric regulation in a market where one operator holds the sort of market share and significant market power – and pertinent to ask is whether Nigeria can learn from the success of other markets in restricting dominant players in the interests of the industry and the country at large’. He opined that if struggling operators can extract a better share of industry value, they are more likely to increase their broadband investment which will drive broadband development in Nigeria’.
He also identified the recent devaluation of the naira and difficulties with sourcing foreign exchange to fund equipment purchases as another key challenge affecting not just broadband development but the telecommunications industry as a whole.
According to him, ‘the recent closure, by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), of the Wholesale and Retail Dutch Auction windows, where telecommunications operators would previously have sourced foreign exchange to fund equipment purchases at lower rates has forced operators to source foreign exchange at significantly higher rates through the interbank foreign exchange market which is mostly unable to meet demand. Moreover with very high cost of borrowing in Nigeria, funding capital investment from long term instruments adds as much as 30% to the purchase price.’
Willsher called on all stakeholders to take necessary action to ensure that Nigeria’s broadband is developed to its full potential.