Usefulness of broadband facilities in efficient electoral system
With the general elections a few days away, ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, Assistant Editor, ComTech, examines the level of broadband penetration in the country and how it could aid the electoral process in the country.
In spite of its steady growth, Nigeria’s broadband penetration still trails those of peer countries. According to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the mobile broadband penetration rates for South Africa, Egypt and Kenya are roughly 116 per cent; 77 per cent, and 54 per cent respectively.
In Nigeria, of the estimated 209 million population, broadband penetration as of December 2022 stood at 47 per cent, with some 90.4 million Nigerians enjoying the facility.
Though in the last one year, the penetration has maintained a steady growth, gaining 5.7 per cent in the year that just passed, comparably, this growth frequency is still at snail’s speed.
Regardless of the slow rise in broadband penetration, it has had some impact on the economy, given the surge in activities in fields like e-commerce and fintechs, which have experienced rapid growth.
Based on the New National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020-2025, the Federal Government projects an ambitious broadband penetration target of 70 per cent by 2025. Nigeria is currently 23 per cent short of meeting the target. Though, on February 1, President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, both claimed 100 per cent broadband penetration in Nigeria because of the coming of Elon Musk’s Starlink service into the country. That remains debatable.
Indeed, the economic impact of broadband penetration has been found to be impressive. In fact, World Bank studies show, conclusively, that in low and middle–income countries, every 10-percentage point increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38 percentage points.
Aside from its economic relevance, broadband Internet facilities, according to analysts, could also help in the facilitation of elections, especially through eVoting.
INEC’s Commitment To Tech-Driven Election
ALREADY, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reassured Nigerians that the 2023 general elections will be technology-driven to avoid human errors.
Speaking during a Twitter space organised by the Commission last November on the topic: ‘Why INEC BVAS, IReV are critical to the 2023 General Election,’ INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IREV) will be deployed for the 2023 general elections.
Okoye said: “We have reached the critical stage in the electoral process, and it’s important to let Nigerians know some of the creative innovation that has been pinpointed for the purposes of the 2023 elections. The INEC chairman has made it clear to Nigerians that only the vote of Nigerians will determine this election.
He has also made it clear that this particular election will be technology-driven.
“It’s very important for Nigerians to understand the base of this particular technology and some of the issues that are involved in the deployment of these technologies.”
He noted that the Commission has the power to make use of electronic voting machines in the electoral process.
“Both the Constitution and the Electoral Act have given the Commission the power to make subsidiary legislations and just as the Commission has also made regulations and guidelines for the conduct of the 2023 general election and other subsequent elections.
“By the provision of Section 41 of the Electoral Act, the National Assembly and invariably the Nigerian people have given the Commission the right and power to provide what we call suitable boxes, electronic voting machines, or any other voting device for the conduct of election.
“The implication is that for the 2023 general election, the Commission has exclusive right and responsibility to determine the mode of election and for this particular election, the Commission has made a determination that it will continue to use the ballot boxes and the ballot papers for the conduct of elections. Subsequently, there is a possibility that the Commission may deploy and introduce electronic voting machines in the electoral process.”He stressed that no registered voter in Nigeria will vote without passing through the gate of BVAS, which has been recommended by INEC as a technological device for voter’s authentication and verification.
Strength Of Nigeria’s ICT Growth
Nigeria’s technology sector has been phenomenal in the last few years, helping to sustain the economy. Specifically, the ICT sector has witnessed significant growth and development. For instance, in 2022, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that the sector contributed 18.44 per cent to the nation’s GDP in the second quarter of 2022, which is likely to continue in 2023, especially if the federal government increases its efforts in promoting the development of the ICT sector and increase access to ICT infrastructure and services across the country.
However, the initiatives such as the NNBP, which aims to increase broadband penetration in the country, and the National eGovernment Master Plan, with focus on increasing the use of ICT in government operations and services, should be sustained.
The deployment of broadband, including through fixed and mobile technology and network infrastructure for multiple telecommunication services and applications, and the evolution to all IP-based wireless and wired future networks (NGNs and their evolutions), has opened up opportunities, especially for developing countries.
Is The Infrastructure Available?
INDEED, for broadband availability, there are other infrastructure that must complement the service. Good a thing, there is 5G in Nigeria now. About two years ago, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) disclosed that the coverage data showed that most rural areas only have access to 89.8 per cent 2G networks, while 3G has coverage of over 74 per cent.
NCC said the data-centric 4G had only about 37 per cent of the population of the country covered as of then. However, MTN, the largest operator in Nigeria said as of December 2022, it had 79.1 per cent 4G coverage of Nigeria and thus far rolled out 588 5G sites across the country.
A further look at the industry showed that there is over $75 billion investment in the telecoms sector. This, has enabled the country to grow its teledensity. As of December 2022, teledensity was 116.6 per cent. It is the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area. It varies widely across nations and also between urban and rural areas within a country. Telephone density has a significant correlation with the per capita GDP of the area.
Statistics from the NCC showed that a total of 33, 832 towers were recorded from mobile and fixed operators, as well as collocation and infrastructure companies as of 2020. The operators also reported a total number of 36, 998 base stations from 34, 033 in 2019 across all states of the federation, representing an increase of 8.7 per cent from the previous year.
Microwave coverage also declined from 302, 036km in 2019 to 289, 720.99km as of 2020. This covered the mobile, fixed and other operators. Some operators recorded a decrease in the microwave coverage due to the decommissioning of backbone microwave links to accommodate increased and higher volumes of traffic. Fibre optics deployment stood at 94, 547.82km (terrestrial fibre & submarine cable) as of December 2020.
Further checks revealed that the top five states with the highest number of towers are Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while states with the least number of base stations are Jigawa, Ebonyi, Gombe, Yobe and Zamfara.
Specifically, as of 2020, Lagos had 5, 686 towers; Ogun 1, 834; Oyo 1, 761; Rivers 1, 720, FCT 1, 495 and Edo 1, 270; Jigawa 329; Ebonyi 311; Gombe 295; Yobe 248, and Zamfara 248.
As of December 2020, the total on-land fibre deployment was 43, 898.8km as against 43, 898.10 km in 2019. The on-land fibre deployment as per operators are MTN – 14, 612km; Glo 13, 306km; Airtel – 11, 151km; EMTS 4, 650km and Ntel – 180km.
By the end of last year, the total submarine fibre deployment in kilometre was 25,128.3km as against 24, 729.3km in the year 2019. This is an increase of 1.36 per cent within the year under consideration. The fibre deployment by four mobile operators includes MTN:15, 244km; Glo: 9, 800km; Airtel: 14km and Ntel: 70km.
In terms of fibre optics deployment, findings showed that as of last December, MTN had deployed 14, 612km on land, and 15, 244km submarine fibre optics; Globacom deployed 13, 306km on land, and 9, 800km submarine fibre optics; 21st Century deployed 8, 050km on land and 33km fibre optics, while ipNX deployed 1, 956km on land fibre optics. This makes an aggregate of 37, 924km of on-land fibre optics deployed as at 2020. This signifies a decline of 27.89 per cent from the 52, 589km deployed in 2019.
Similarly, an aggregate of 25, 077km submarine fibre optics was deployed by MTN, Globacom, 21st Century and ipNX during the period under review. It signifies a 154.4 per cent gross increase from the 9, 856km recorded in 2019.
Across the six geo-political zones, the NCC licensed 103 Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which have a total of 2146 Point of Presence (PoPs). A PoP is the access point provided by ISPs and used to measure each ISPs size or growth rate. Spectranet had the largest number – 648 PoPs, Tizetti is next with 131, while ipNX Nigeria Ltd has 19,068 connected users, 13, 104 are active customers with 53 PoP in Nigeria.
It is noteworthy to mention that the total number of satellite subscriptions has increased over the period from 2, 657 subscriptions in December 2019, to 3, 238 subscriptions in 2020, indicating an increase of 21 per cent in the number of satellite subscriptions.
Interestingly, the satellite sub-sector has been buoyed by the entrance of Starlink into the Nigerian broadband space. It has the power to reach areas mobile broadband cannot immediately reach, but it is very expensive.
How Infrastructure Will Aid Election Conduct
THE Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the current infrastructure in the sector could be upgraded to boost electronic transmission of poll results.
He also pointed out that where added interfaces are required, either to compress or encrypt the information for better security, it is easier to do that on 3G networks than it is on 2G.
According to him, the requirement would be to have sites that are covering areas where polling centres have been upgraded to 3G, and this will be to increase the backbone capacity of affected sites.
He added that this will also include replacing and upgrading the capacity of the last mile radios on those sites, as well as other interfaces that will now deliver 3G services above the 2G that is currently in the affected locations.
Adebayo further added that the task is to increase the transmission capacity to those sites and thereafter upgrade the elements that deliver last-mile services from 2G to 3G.
On his part, the Chairman, Mobile Software Nigeria, Chris Uwaje, said the importance of technology as a critical infrastructure in processing and delivering credible, free and fair national election cannot be overemphasized.
Uwaje said it is instructive to recognise that today, that the essential functionalities of those technologies are driven and governed by software.
According to him, of all the currently available technologies, broadband technology stands out, having numerous advantages because it allows voice, data, and video to be transmitted and broadcast with the same medium at the same time – over a longer distance.
He said the type, choice, configuration, capacity and operational knowhow of the technology deployed differs from country to country and makes a great difference in delivered results.
“But, perhaps the most critical infrastructure in delivering effective and accurate election is the peoples’ infrastructure. The peoples’ infrastructure is the commensurate skill sets and competencies, which ensure that the processes are religiously applied and implemented according to laid down rules of both the electoral laws, regulations and the configuration/operational dynamics of the adopted technologies.
“With a population of 209 million people, it will be very difficult if not impossible to organise and deliver a free, fair and credible election without a broadband and trusted skilled people infrastructure.
“Currently, the preferred technology model is the broadband technology – expressed as telecommunications devices that provide and allow effective and real-time transmission of the collated data and computed information over a wide band of frequencies, which are sliced into multiple independent channels for simultaneous transmission over different signals,” he added.
Uwaje said available records show, and it is instructive to note that the definition of broadband data transmission rates vary, 144 Kbps (thousands of bits per second) represents a minimum broadband transmission rate, compared to 56 Kbps for a telephone modem, “unlike telephone line connections to the Internet, which typically involve dialing-in to use the service, broadband connections.
“Whereas the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020 – 2025 now in its implementation phase is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria of a minimum 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas. But our critical national infrastructure (CNI) is facing the critical challenge of migration from Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) to enhance the penetration, quality and security of data and information transmission. This requires a fundamental solution to deliver the promise of digital citizenship and transformation – going forward.”
He submitted that the complete assurances of delivering an effective, free, fair and credible national election resides in the thrust wordiness factor of people, process and technology governed by ethical Judiciary system and collective national security.
Gaps, Challenges Persist
AS of December 2022, Nigeria still has some 115 access gaps (villages, areas and locations) where about 25 million people still do not have access to any form of telephony services.
The efforts to get these areas (which are also marked for elections) covered have been hampered by the inability of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) to take off, almost six years into the re-documentations of investors for the project.
InfraCos are licenced by the NCC to provide Layer 1 (dark fibre) services on a commercial basis with a focus on the deployment of metropolitan fibre and transmission services, available at access points – Fibre-to-the-Node or neighbourhood (FTTN) – to seekers. They were licenced regionally for maximum impact.
They are expected to make wholesale broadband facilities available and ensure connection of the 774 Local Government Areas of the country.
The InfraCo project started at the latter part of the administration of former Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, the late Dr. Eugene Juwah, in 2015. But it was reviewed, expanded and given a fillip by the current EVC, Prof. Umar Danbatta.
The licenced InfraCos are MainOne for Lagos, Zinox Technology Limited for Southeast and Brinks Integrated Solutions Limited for Northeast. Others are O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for Southwest, Fleek Networks Limited for Northwest, Raeana Consortium Limited for South-South and Broadbase Communications Limited for North Central.
Brinks Integrated Solution, which has licence for Northeast is expected to cover Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. Fleeks Networks Limited with Northwest licence will provide services to states including Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
Southeast, which is being handled by Zinox Technologies Limited, would cover Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. Raeana Consortium Limited would focus on Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and River states, all in the South-South.
While MainOne would cover the entire Lagos, Broadbase Communications is expected to handle Benue, Abuja, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger and Plateau. But findings suggest a new mapping by NCC would require Broadbase Communication to focus on wiring Abuja only, which has been carved out as a special focal area as in the case with Lagos.
The slow take-off has been attributed to many challenges. These include insecurity, foreign exchange (forex) turbulence, poor projected return on investments, especially in the less viable regions and the inability of licencees to access NCC’s N64 billion counterpart funding (subsidy) for the project.
To make matters worse, states governments’ indifference has compounded delays in InfraCo take-off. Most of the states have gone against the Federal Government’s fixed and agreed N145/ linear meter for Right of Way (RoW) levies at the Nigeria Governors Forum. Some State Governors charged as much as N10,000 for RoW, which has been described as a great threat to ubiquitous broadband in Nigeria.