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Universal Access: Nigerians access internet at great cost

By Juliet Umeh

Within a  few decades of its existence, the internet has become man’s most reliable ally in his quest for information. Interestingly, Nigeria is not left behind as both young and the old constantly log into the internet, these days, for one activity or the other.

Internet-speed

This has led to statistics which portray Nigeria as a factor in the new information world. Statistics from  Internetworldstats  has shown that Nigeria ranks 8th  among the top 20 global internet users.

This is when some far developed countries like Germany and United Kingdom, are in 9th and 12th positions respectively.

That is not even all. The Director, Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Mr Tony Ojobo, at a recent event disclosed that “in 2016, about 16 million Nigerians were connected to facebook but in 2018, the number increased to 26 million. Out of this, 25 million connected with mobile devices. Also, more than 35 million people around the world connect to Nigerian businesses on facebook”.

More so, a lot of Nigerians, especially the youths, are leveraging the opportunities provided by the internet to better their lives.

A product manager at Teragon Group, Ayomide Banjomo is an avid user of the internet for years.  He says: “Internet has helped me a lot. Before now, I was not used to reading many books but now e-books have really helped me. By just converting physical books to a PDF format either on my phone or laptop, I can digest them within few hours at my comfortable time.

“Aside from that, taking courses online has really been effective for me. I just recently concluded Google course on digital marketing. The internet is a social leveler because we can thrive on this space” he added.

However, as interesting as it sounds, so many people still cannot afford data for this connection. The quest for less expensive data, stirred a discussion recently, on a topic: ’Democratizing access through data inclusion at just concluded Digital Pay Expo 2018.’

Concerns were raised on how network providers extort Nigerians in their quest to be connected.

Most people complained bitterly that going online in Nigeria is a risk taken against one’s finances.

Some argue that to be active on the net, a Nigerian user must be ready to spend in excess of N10,000 monthly.

Going by the topic, a Co-founder at ACS Ltd, an online credit system, Victor Raji, says that Nigeria has digital access already but through exorbitant data cost. “The problem we have in broadband internet is high cost of data. There is universal access but connectivity is at a cut throat price. Besides the high cost, is very slow internet speed and the Greek gifts many operators offer, in terms of data bonuses and other marketing strategies” he alleged.

Data slashes that hurt

Speedtest global index statistics for May 2018, ranks Nigeria as low as 108th in the world on mobile internet speed at a download speed of 10.04 and upload speed of 9.35 megabytes per second, Mbps.

This is against global average download speed of 23.57 megabytes per second.

Fellow African countries, such as Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Kenya at 71st, 72nd, 85th, and 87th positions respectively, with 19.21, 18.52, 15.89 and 15.39 Mbps download speed respectively, are far ahead of Nigeria.

Even other African countries like Cote d Ívoire at 105th position with 11.19 Mbps download speed and Namibia at 106th position with 10.82 Mbps download speed were still better ranked than Nigeria.

The implication of this low ranking is that Nigerian data subscribers are the most tormented, in terms of the time taken to download information from their mobile internet.

Despite this tumultuous time they experience while downloading information, many mobile operators and their counterparts in broadband internet services provision, also frustrate them further, with disguised market strategies which come in forms of data price slashes or outright free data packages.

Some of these packages are either meant to get many subscribers to their networks or to amass revenue to stay afloat in a market that is obviously experiencing distress.

For instance, telecom company and 4G/LTE service provider, nTel, apparently  has one of the cheapest data bundles and also  cheapest unlimited 4G LTE data plan prices in Nigeria today, with a promise of about 12 Gigabytes at just N1000.00 on a cheap cell phone plan.

However, NTel works only on  LTE  smartphones and Mifi devices and so, only has  4G data plans. Meanwhile, 4G LTE, as a network, is yet to even cover 20 percent of Nigerian cities and according to the latest annual report from  OpenSignal, Nigeria is not even in the top 90 countries in terms of 4G LTE availability and speed.

The top two countries in the world, in terms of 4G availability and speed, are South Korea and Japan. Even at that, their speed hovers around 40-45Mbps range and have not attained the 50 Mbps Holy Grail.

Now, one begins to wonder how a user, will maximise the potential of a 12GB data, in a country with below 20% 4G coverage of its major cities.

Yet, for a company that was reported to be owing a bank as at last year and has also experienced massive staff resignations, the huge revenue it can rake in from such market strategies, which will no doubt attract many of Nigeria’s data hungry subscribers, can go a long way in restoring whatever grounds it has lost.

Although, for companies that adopted such market strategies in the past, survival was never really assured.

At one point or the other in their operational days, companies like Mobitel, Starcomms, MultiLinks, Reltel Wireless, MTS Wireless, Visafone among others, adopted similar tactics that drew a lot of subscribers to their networks.

However, they were unable to salvage the dying Code Division Multiple Access, CDMA genre of telecom operation from hitting the canvas.

At the end of first quarter  of 2018, the four major telecoms companies in Nigeria – MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9mobile, maintained firm hold of the telecom market share with over 99.7 per cent while the CDMA is left with an abysmal three percent.

This is a direct result of the four operators having a total number of 160,081,051 subscribers, while the CDMA stood stagnant at 217,566, according to reports from the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.

NCC’s efforts

In all these, the crucial question could be if NCC is doing anything to improve the situation

But, Head, Public Relations, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Mr. Reuben Mouka, said: “People always have the wrong notion that Nigeria has the highest cost in phone calls and data among the countries of the world. While we take cognizance and respect subscribers’ opinions, we beg to disagree that every cost in Nigeria is the highest. We actually do research of various countries, locally and abroad and I can tell you today that Nigeria will not be in upper category where services are in the highest, at best or at worst, we will be in the middle.

“Communication  is expensive; we have had one debate at some point in the commission when people were saying telecommunication is very high in Nigeria when we were doing N50 per minute. Telecommunication is the only area where prices have continued on the downward slide. Since we started regulations and stirred competition, prices are coming down. Meanwhile telecoms are still operating in the same social, political environment like any other service.

“In terms of data, well individually because of our incomes, we can feel that it is very high but you see that today, somebody can get a 10G with N2500 in one network and with N10, 000 in another network, that is the position of NCC to provide you the choice, to make sure there are more entries into the market, to allow competition to drive and determine the prices people will pay for the services.

“At some point, we actually tried to intervene, to moderate how the services are delivered, but some organizations that didn’t like the policy started misinforming the people.

“However, the good news is that we have engaged consultants that are working to get the real price that we can use to go to the market. Definitely, our aim is to ensure prices are affordable,” he said.

Way forward

Meanwhile many Nigerians believe that the country can take a more proactive action that can easily result in a robust broadband regime in Nigeria by harmonizing the National Executive Council, NEC’s stipulated Right of Way, RoW prices among states and the federation to enable broadband cable investors to take the over 10 Terabytes capacity of bandwidth still lying fallow at the various landing points in the country, to the hinterlands.

This they said will not only activate the country’s national broadband plan but also spur business prospects across the country.

It has been an uphill task to move this capacity from the shores to the hinterlands

One of those who have firm belief in this strategy is President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, NACC, Chief Olabintan Famutimi. At the NACC’s May 2018 breakfast meeting themed  “Aggressive Broadband Strategy and National Development – The Way Forward for Nigeria”, 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 megabytes 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 inaction 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 speed/penetration in the world. Why is the state so far behind? The failure to keep pace is the direct result of our failure to adopt a national broadband policy”

He advised the country to take aggressive action to significantly expand the broadband connectivity.

Photo: Mobile broadband, 17/6/18, Mobile internet subscription 17/6/18, Data cable, 10/6/18

 


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.