By Prince Osuagwu (Hi-Tech Editor)
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.
The plan was packaged 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.
The expected result would remove barriers to expanding services to the mass market for deeper penetration and adoption. However, few weeks to the expiration of the deadline, only 22 percent has been achieved.
Industry stakeholders, including the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC have attributed the inability to hit the target, so far, to the different right of way, RoW prices between the federal and the state governments.
While the federal government has agreed to the N145 per meter price stipulated by the National Economic Council, NEC, the states set different and varying Right of Way prices.
Meanwhile, the NCC has been urged to look towards sending a bill for harmonisation of Right of Way, RoW prices to the national assembly to compel the state governments to revert to the N145 per meter stipulated by the National Economic Council, NEC, else Nigeria will continue to lag behind in broadband development.
Out of about 120,000 km of fibre network required for pervasive coverage in Nigeria, only a paltry 38,000 km fibre has been deployed.
Ondo State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Mr Abdulsalam Taofiq, who represented the State at a broadband stakeholders meeting hosted by the NCC for Southern Nigeria states, said the country would need a law to compel the states to charge only N145 recommended by NEC.
He advised NCC to “send a bill to the National Assembly to that effect. Without a law, states may not reduce the charges as they all want to generate more revenue” he added.
The NCC said although it has tried to get the governors buy into ‘broadband for all’ concept catching on in many developed countries, they had remained adamant and retained very outrageous right of way prices which practically frustrate the efforts of cable operators and infrastructure Companies from deploying broadband services for the last mile.
Despite the call by the Federal government, through the National Economic Council, NEC for all stakeholders to peg Right of Way prices at N145 per metre, Operators are still made to cough out well over N5000 per meter in some states, creating serious bottleneck to last mile deployment and the broadband policy’s 30 percent broadband penetration target.
Meanwhile, submarine broadband cable investors like MainOne, Glo 1, WACS and Sat 3, have volumes of terabytes lying fallow on the shores of Lagos.
States like Rivers and Abia are said to charge up to N1,500 and N2,000 respectively, while others like Lagos, Delta and Ogun charge up to N5,840, N4,600 and N6,500 respectively.
However, the NCC says it is still appealing to State Governments across the Federation to consider reduction of current charges for Right of Ways in the interest of national economic development. The Commission made the appeal at a broadband stakeholders engagement workshop, in Lagos.
NCC’s Director of Technical Standards, Engr. Bako Wakil while addressing the stakeholders including representatives of state governments from southern part of the country, said the high RoW charges by the states have hindered the roll out of infrastructure by licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos), thus broadband penetration in the country has remained at 22 percent.
Wakil, who is also the Alternate Chairman, Broadband Implementation and Monitoring Committee, said the NCC had recently met with all the state Governors through the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) to appeal to them on the need to revert to the recommended N145 per meter for RoW. According to him, all the Governors had agreed to adopt the price, but none has implemented it yet.
He said: “Our worry now is that by next year, the current set of Governors that agreed may not be in office again and we will have to start talking to new Governors afresh. The EVC has also been meeting with Governors one on one and we will continue to do that until they realise the importance of broadband and the need to remove the hurdles” he said.
Industry practitioners believe that adequate broadband penetration will contribute a lot to the GDP of the country and boost economic diversification. They believe strong mobile companies moving their headquarters to South Africa which population is a fraction of Nigeria’s rather than where the population and demand could easily drive high returns on investment is mainly due to pervasive broadband penetration.
Citing a World Bank study, which established that a 10 per cent point increase in fixed broadband penetration would increase GDP growth by 1.21 per cent in developed economies and 1.38 per cent in developing ones, Wakil said all the states and Nigeria as a whole stand to gain huge economic benefits if broadband becomes pervasive.
Meanwhile, Lead strategist and operations Head of Legend, a Multimedia Media service provider , Aisha Abdulaziz, took the issue beyond the states: “ The issues are mostly caused by infrastructure gaps and distortions in the industry structure.
The country has a huge shortage of terrestrial ICT cable infrastructure which is the main foundation for reliable broadband. Though we have made progress in the Submarine and National Long Distance Cable infrastructure, we are lacking in FTTX infrastructure also referred to as the last mile. This coupled with an industry structure that is skewed heavily in the favor of Mobile operators, makes it difficult to achieve the type of focus that will bolster the growth of cable broadband which is the foundation for true broadband services” she added.