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As Nigeria’s broadband development gets new attention

By Adeyemi Adepetun
26 October 2022   |   4:16 am
Adeyemi Adepetun writes on the planned collaboration between the Federal Government through the Nigerian Communications Commission and state governments to deepen the country’s broadband penetration

[FILES] Danbatta, NCC EVC

Adeyemi Adepetun writes on the planned collaboration between the Federal Government through the Nigerian Communications Commission and state governments to deepen the country’s broadband penetration.

The economic impact of broadband penetration has been found to be quite impressive. In fact, World Bank studies show, quite conclusively, that in low and middle–income countries, every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38 percentage points.
  
Notably, the disparity in access levels in homes in Nigeria remains a concern. This gap is contributing to the digital divide, which is referred to as the gap between people that have access to modern Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and those that do not or have restricted access.
  
While Nigeria can boast of 44.65 per cent broadband penetration with some 85 million people enjoying the facility in the country and a target of 70 per cent penetration and 90 per cent coverage has been set via the New National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020 to 2025, there are concerns that some challenges, especially Right of way and lack of support from state governments could remain a major limitation to deepening broadband in the country.
  
It was in recognition of these challenges that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) under the Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatt, last week in Abuja, brought the state governors together to find a lasting solution to the issue and create a new approach to strengthen Federal-State collaboration.

  
Interestingly, to achieve all these, the NCC’s Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) 2021 to 2025 and Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020 to 2024, made collaboration and partnership with public and private stakeholders key pillars.
  
Indeed, the one-day Broadband Technical Awareness Forum (TAF) was organised against the background of the fact that the availability, accessibility and affordability of broadband services and infrastructure across the country would unlock enormous opportunities in the telecommunications industry and the digital economy at large. It also was inspired by the need for states, therefore, to create policy frameworks and set well-defined goals for broadband deployment at the sub-national levels.

Over 170 delegates attended the forum from the states and federal agencies. It was declared open by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami via a 5G-enabled hologram. Welcome addresses were given by Danbatt and the Chairman of the Board of NCC, Prof Adeolu Akande.
  
Other participants at the TAF included governors and representatives of Bayelsa, Kaduna, Zamfara, Edo, Ekiti, Nasarawa, and Ondo states. Former Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC and current Chairman of MTN, Nigeria, Ernest Ndukwe was also present.

  
The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, delivered a goodwill message on behalf of the state governors, during which he highlighted the digital progress being made in Edo, especially in e-Governance in health and education.
Objectives of the broadband TAF

Among the objectives of the TAF identified was the needs to begin the process of developing a sub-national strategy for deploying broadband facilities at the state level to enable the achievement of the national broadband penetration target of 70 per cent by 2025.
   
It was also to provide a platform for engagement with state governors to deepen their understanding of the impacts and potentials of coordinating and investing in broadband penetration strategies.

It will also provide support for governors to establish State Broadband Coordinating Councils (SBCC), which would complement the ongoing implementation of the NNBP 2020 – 2025.

Key observations
The Forum noted that the ICT sector, which had been the driver of the Digital Economy, contributed 18.44 per cent to the total Nigerian real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Q2 2022, and that, in particular, connectivity and digital technologies had always been responsible for economic development all over the world, including in security, political and civic engagements.
 
It was noted that the formalization of government online meetings, which had so far ensured that governance, could go on unhindered notwithstanding the physical location of members and of the Federal Executive Council and State Executive Councils, among other arms of government.
  
The forum also noted that over 83.3 million subscribers are on broadband networks of 3G and 4G, which are having a practical and positive impact across sectors of the economy, including household consumption, healthcare, education, agriculture, finance, transportation, commerce, and governance, among others.
  
According to the forum, digital technology would be directly relevant to the implementation of the vision and target of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.

Identified challenges
Although few states had taken some steps to implement some components of the recommendation of the NNBP 2020-2030, there had been little or no verifiable ongoing Access Fibre Network projects being implemented or supported by states, which had stunted broadband penetration at the state levels.
 
According to the forum, the creation of e-governance systems across the states needed to be further improved even though some of them (states) had deployed information and data-sharing platforms in some of the government departments.
  
Although progress had been made in realising some of the targets set in the previous Broadband Plan and even in the current plan, the forum observed that several factors still militated against the full attainment of the targets.
  
According to them, the first Broadband Plan was severely hamstrung by issues of Right of Way (RoW), regulation and taxes, security of infrastructure, spectrum allocation, investment and funding.

Going forward
In view of the foregoing observations and deliberations at the forum, some resolutions were reached, and recommendations were made.
  
Accordingly, the forum called on governors to establish State Seed-Funds for broadband infrastructure deployment, coordination, and facilitation without further delay and as part of the 2023 Appropriation Act.
 
The state governments were urged to collaborate and cooperate with the federal establishment and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to build and implement broadband infrastructure at the state level.
  
It was also recommended that there should be the establishment of an institutionalisation State Broadband Councils, using the strategy of stakeholder engagement, policy framework, capacity development, funding operations, programme evaluation and evolution.

 
There was also a call for the adoption of a Public-Private-Partnership model for infrastructure build-out, funding and driving broadband penetration in the states, especially for cost reduction.
  
The states were also beckoned to consider waiving their RoW charges for the greater benefits occasioned by broadband access for overall economic development for them.
  
Also, governors should develop state based broadband plans and frameworks, including funding and sustainability models for broadband penetration.
  
The Forum also called on the NCC, to pay attention to anti-competition practices, for instance, by multinational organizations, which muzzle out small operators, especially in Internet service provisioning.
 
The Forum resolved among others, that each state government should, after a publication of the guidelines for the operation of the State Broadband Councils, constitute the council at the state level with clear Terms of Reference and institutional support latest by the first quarter of 2023.
 
The states would be ready to support and work with the FG on the proviso that there would be openness, mutual trust, and collaboration among the parties.
 
“There should be further and deeper conversations using the platform of more and continuous technical workshops, which would involve critical stakeholders (regulators, investors, FG, and state government and other stakeholders). Such further conversations would focus on giving effect to the original objectives and operational model of the licensed INFRACOs and models of incentivizing the private sector to invest in the rural and underserved areas,” the forum noted.