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Why Nigeria’s 5-year broadband plan is failing

By Prince Osuagwu (Hi-Tech Editor)  &  Naomi Uzor

In 2013, Nigeria through the Presidential Committee on Broadband developed a five-year strategy to drive internet and broadband penetration and scale up the nation’s broadband growth by 30 percent.

•Laying broadband cable to extend services to the rural areas, a major problem in Nigeria
•Laying broadband cable to extend services to the rural areas, a major problem in Nigeria

The vision behind the Nigerian broadband plan seeks to accelerate high speed internet and mass broadband access, and as a result prompt socio-economic growth for the nation and prosperity for its citizens in addition to removing barriers to expanding services to the mass market for deeper penetration and adoption.

However, five years down the line, the impact of the National Broadband plan is yet to be felt.

Last mile broadband penetration is still a mirage in the country even though it formed the basis and primary aim of the plan.

Meanwhile, submarine broadband cable investments by private concerns like Mainone, Glo 1, West African Cable System,WACS and NITEL’s Sat 3, have a volume of terabytes lying fallow on the shores of Lagos while the country struggles fruitlessly to achieve last mile deployment.

Broadband service providers have attributed this to the inability of the Federal and state governments to harmonise the  Right of Way (RoW) levies that give operators access to deploy services.

This is even when “Broadband for all” is a concept that is catching on in many developed countries.

The National Economic Council (NEC) RoW guideline stipulates N145 per metre for laying  fibre  network in every part of the country.  But it is observed that states have arbitrarily fixed their own charges which range between N1,500 and N6000.While states like Rivers and Abia, charge N1,500 and N2,000 respectively, others like Lagos, Delta and Ogun charge up to N5840, N4,600 and N6,500 respectively.

Yet,  only a paltry 38,000 km fibre out of about 120,000 km of fibre network  required for pervasive coverage has been deployed in Nigeria.

In September 2017, the International Telecoms Union (ITU) ICT Development Index ranked Nigeria 143 out of the 176 member states, which was exactly the same ranking as 2016 and behind many other African countries including South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco and Cote D’Ivoire.

In a similar development, the country’s mobile broadband penetration only inched up to 22 per cent from 21 per cent the previous year, thus showing almost no progress.

Industry observers have expressed worry that this is not the way forward for a country that has made tremendous progress in telecom development and should ordinarily plug into broadband revolution, seamlessly.

The frightening aspect of the development is the opinion that the effects are adversely telling on the economy of the country and may soon throw Nigeria back into a pariah state.

Slow national development, low attraction of foreign direct investment and inadequate infrastructure, are part of the effects the country is said to be feeling as a result of inability of the action plan to lift the broadband development to a desired end.

CEO of Main One Cable Company, Funke Opeke, is one of the operators feeling the impact. Opeke has raised the alarm that prospective investors who are genuinely willing to invest in the country are seen to be retreating when they look at the economics of investing in the broadband sector.

She said: “Investors are willing to come to Nigeria. I have seen a lot of them who looked at the size of the Nigerian economy and wanted to come in, but once they start looking at the economics they pull out. They will tell you they have done it in Kenya, Ghana and other African countries, so, why is it too expensive to do here in Nigeria? The conditions are not just conducive at the moment to make such investment” she said.

She said the remedy was for government to bring down the cost of infrastructure; be it RoW or main infrastructure, adding that low purchasing power of Nigerian consumers has had a negative impact on the telcos.

She specifically regretted that “Nigeria’s Broadband Plan targets spreading 3G/LTE to at least 80 percent of the population while delivering a five-fold increase in broadband penetration, but this has not been achieved, thus hurting the prospects of the industry”.

Another stakeholder who is not finding the country’s low broadband penetration funny is the President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, NACC, Chief Olabintan Famutimi. He recently highlighted the sorry nature of Nigeria’s broadband penetration when he recalled that present service providers in the country, may find it difficult to meet the demand for broadband services.

Famutimi also regretted that Nigeria’s five-year national broadband action plan, has failed to deliver, as its inaction exposes broadband network operators and may lead the country into playing catch-up to broadband developments when other countries are harnessing the benefits.

Apparently, this realisation prompted Famutimi to revolve the theme of NACC’s May 2018 breakfast meeting around “Aggressive Broadband Strategy and National Development – The Way Forward for Nigeria”.

Addressing participants at the gathering, Famutimi, lamented that the demand for broadband connectivity is accelerating, especially as video traffic and home-based businesses are becoming prevalent, regretting that current broadband networks in the country may not cope with the demand as it is way above their capacity.

He said the benefits of broadband connectivity are felt directly by every consumer and business and so, final decisions must involve  local leaders under a comprehensive federal program.

He said: “Several studies predict that the future of internet growth for homes and businesses will need a minimum of 100 megabites per second of capacity within the next few years and will need greater capacity even going forward. While several countries are preparing for this future, our dear Nation, unfortunately, is not even considering the huge population growth. “For instance, Japan has already announced a national commitment to build fibre networks to every home and business.

“Expectedly, the ineffectiveness of  Nigeria’s broadband plan is affecting Nigeria’s capacity to make progress on so many of the indices by which the nation’s economy and current diversification efforts are judged. For example, Nigeria continues to be ranked among countries with the lowest broadband penetration in the world.

 


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