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Funding, policies to shape FG’s new broadband focus

By Adeyemi Adepetun
26 February 2020   |   4:25 am
To avoid some of the pitfalls that stunted the full realisation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP 2013-2018), the Federal Government would need to make funds available, and ensure policies targeted at growing the local...

Broad band connection

To avoid some of the pitfalls that stunted the full realisation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP 2013-2018), the Federal Government would need to make funds available, and ensure policies targeted at growing the local market is promoted to bring the new NBP 2020 to 2025, to realisation.

The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), which stated this, noted that these two are fundamental in enthroning a broadband regime in the country.

This advice comes on the heels of the recent submission of the new NBP 2020 to 2025 draft report compiled by a 25-man committee led by the Chief Executive Officer of MainOne Cables, Funke Opeke, to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, about two weeks back.

Pantami had said earlier in the year that the broadband plan will be ready within this first quarter.

While the narrowband (GSM technology) has been able to connect 126 million people in Nigeria to the Internet, broadband connections according to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), as at 2019 was 72.1 million with 37.8 per cent penetration.

In a chat with The Guardian, the President, ATCON, Olusola Teniola, said: “it is clear that the following areas raised in the previous plan have been reviewed and a level of urgency and priority placed on them. This is to ensure that digital economy policy and strategy of the government is aligned with when the ‘solid infrastructure’ pillar is strengthened with specific measurable achievable realistic and timely objectives.”

Teniola noted that the Broadband Plan 2020-25 includes infrastructure, demand drivers, incentives and funding and policy, regulation and spectrum as focal points that need immediate attention by all stakeholders in ensuring a viable platform for Nigeria’s digital transformation journey.

According to him, there is a need for immediate collaboration with critical stakeholders, who are also telecoms operators to ensure the ‘buy-in’ and legitimacy of the proposed plan, and ensuring that this is private-sector led.

The ATCON boss posited that lack of fund to effectively implement all the recommendations is a major concern, adding that there is a serious need to coordinate all future infrastructures builds to avoid duplication of efforts and wasted investments.

He pointed out that the broadband plan implementation creates an opportunity for the country to define new areas of development, and ultimately the progress of the ICT in its contribution to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth and enabling such technologies as Cloud computing, smart IoT, e-Agric, digital financial services and smart cities.

According to him, if those challenges are mitigated, and there is full deployment, the country should be able to play a leading role in Africa’s drive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

However, Teniola said this really depends on the youth up-skilling in digital literate subjects, “and for our processes and procedures to be interoperable with E-Systems across different value chains.”

He stressed that 4IR assumes that physical industrial structures are the basis for the evolution of fully automated production that adopts robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), to improve man-machine interfaces and integration. “This is still a journey Nigeria is yet to embark on,” Teniola noted.

From the angle of infrastructure, with huge gaps in Nigeria and possibility of the country leapfrog the broadband regime when power generation and supply remain epileptic, Teniola explained that broadband is already here, albeit at low penetration rates. “This is on the back of challenges faced in power generation and supply. There is no leapfrogging of broadband, as it is the underlying foundation for the connectivity required to fuel the development of all emerging technologies.”

Meanwhile, the committee that drafted the NBP report was co-chaired by NCC’s former Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Bashir Gwandu, while his successor, Ubale Maska, was secretary.

Pantami inaugurated the committee on December 16, 2019, to develop a new national broadband plan (2020-2025), which will serve as a guiding template for further development of the telecommunications sector.

According to the NCC, the 2013-2018 broadband plan, which was designed to achieve at least 30 per cent broadband penetration recorded 37.8 per cent broadband coverage at its expiration.

The new broadband plan, being developed with the support and collaboration of the UK government is expected to increase broadband penetration to 70 per cent by 2025.