Bridging Nigeria’s broadband gap for economic growth
ADEYEMI ADEPETUN writes on the state of the country’s broadband penetration, challenges and efforts to bridge gaps.
Broadband Internet is high-speed Internet access that is always available. The disparity in access level 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.
Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Cable Modem, Fiber, Wireless, Satellite, and Broadband over Powerlines (BPL). The broadband technology a subscriber chooses will depend on a number of factors. These may include whether he is located in an urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with other services (such as voice telephone and home entertainment), price and availability.
Today, statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) showed that some 25 million Nigerians in some 114 communities otherwise known as access gaps, have not had any access to basic telephony service in the country.
It must also be stated that the sub-sector, which witnessed a lull in growth in the last six months of 2021, due to some government policies, especially as it relates to activation of new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards and subsequent linkage to the National Identification Number (NIN) is gradually rebounding in 2022.
Specifically, data from the NCC showed that as at January 2022, 79.4 million Nigerians had access to broadband, representing 41.61 per cent. The penetration dropped in February to 40.9 per cent with 78 million users.
It however, rose in March to 42.91 per cent and 80.6 million users. It increased in April with 81.9 million Nigerians having access and getting 42.79 per cent, by May, which is the current data, customers have increased to 83.3 million with 43.7 per cent market reach.
Bridging the gap
THE Federal Government had through the National Broadband Plan 2020 to 2025 set a target of 70 per cent penetration and 90 per cent population reach and it appears there are several efforts by the NCC to realizes this.
A World Bank study revealed that a ten percentage point increase in broadband penetration would increase GDP growth by 1.21 per cent in developed economies and 1.38 per cent in developing ones. On this, the World Bank challenged sub-Saharan Africa, with focus on Nigeria, to ensure it leads the region in connecting about 1.1 billion to online by 2030 and bridge the connectivity gap. To get this done, the World Bank estimated that about $100 billion or close to $9 billion will be required yearly.
The global bank noted that achieving this target is a significant undertaking, which will require the deployment of nearly 250,000 new 4G base stations and at least 250,000 kilometers of fiber across the region.
It stressed that connecting the unconnected would also require rolling out innovative and alternative solutions (Wi-Fi and satellites) to reach the nearly 100 million people that live in remote, rural areas, currently out of reach of traditional mobile networks.
According to the World Bank, for the most part, achieving universal access to broadband connectivity is an infrastructure challenge with nearly 80 per cent of all required investments directly tied to the need to roll out and maintain broadband networks. It however, noted that investing in good quality, affordable and reliable infrastructure won’t be enough.
The bank said an additional $18 billion will be needed to develop a digital ecosystem, which means investing in basic digital skills and local content to support development opportunities, including for women and girls. Moreover, to reach the 36 per cent illiterate population, voice-based solutions and applications should also be built.
While it noted that another $2.5 billion should be mobilised for policy and regulatory reforms to create market conditions fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and technology deployment, the bank said achieving universal, affordable access on the continent also means lowering the cost of mobile devices through targeted public policies and market measures knowing that, in 2018, the median cost of an entry-level internet-enabled device in Africa was 40 per cent of monthly income.
Challenges to overcome
DESPITE advice by the World Bank, some challenges in the Nigerian market must be overcome to ensure ubiquitous broadband and the country leads the region to the 2030 target. For instance, challenges such as poor electrical power supply infrastructure; pricing; Right of Way; distance and infrastructure.
Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the access gap in rural areas have continued to widen despite all promises made over the years by the Federal Government on rural telephony.
Adebayo said there are people who still have to move out of their compounds and environments to higher lands or hills to make calls, receive calls or send text messages.
Speaking on the realisation of the 2025 broadband target of 70 per cent, the Managing Director and Chief Executive of VDT Communications, Biodun Omoniyi, said the 2025 target was quite possible, “only if all stakeholders will sync their ideas to achieve it.”
According to him, broadband coverage would be better through the wireless infrastructure, as it (broadband) remained key to economic growth. He said ISPs should get government support to enable them to remain in business since they contribute to job creation, insisting that protecting them could make broadband services affordable and available.
MEANWHILE, as part of efforts, targeted at deepening broadband and FG’s digital agenda, there is an InfraCo project, which is expected to ensure broadband facilities in all the 774 Local Government Areas of the country. Also, planned deployment of the 5G network by August 2022, whose auction was conducted by NCC on December 13, 2021, is also seen as another move that will bridge connectivity gaps in the country.
That said, with the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, now appointed a member of the 27-member Presidential Council on Digital Economy and e-Government (PCDEeG), this is also expected to renew drive for deeper broadband reach in the country
Recall that on November 28, 2019, the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030 was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari. This was followed by the launch, in March, 2020, of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2020-2025, among several other digital economy policies, among which is National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector (NPPIC).
As a justification to the role of Danbatta in the entire spectrum of digital economy drive in the country, the implementation offices for the NNBP and NDESP are placed under his watch, while some other regulatory initiatives are being emplaced by the Danbatta-led NCC to implement the NDEPS and other related digital economy policies.
Under Danbatta’s watch, the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services at NCC, Ubale Maska, chairs the Broadband Implementation Steering Committee, (BISC) while the Nigeria Office for Developing the Indigenous Telecoms Sector (NODITS), saddled with the responsibility of implementing the NPPIC is domiciled within the Commission also. It is being led by a Deputy Director in the Commission, Babagana Digima.
The NCC has put in place the Strategic Management Plan (SMP), 2020-2024 and the Strategic Vision Implementation Plan (SViP), 2020-2025, as the two blueprints to ensure the implementation of the digital economy policies whose implementation is being pushed by the minister, Prof. Isa Pantami.
President Buhari inaugurated the PCDEeG on June 9, 2022 with the main purpose of meeting regularly to provide strategies on how the government will continue to take advantage of digital technologies to transform every sector of the economy. The Council is also tasked with the responsibility of ensuring improvement in Nigeria’s ranking on ease of doing business.
With the inauguration of the Council, it is expected that far-reaching measures and recommendations shall be made to the Federal Government, from time to time, on how the various challenges affecting the information and communications technology (ICT) industry can be tactfully addressed towards ensuring faster growth and reaping the multiplier advantages of the nation’s digital economy.