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UK hits 95% broadband penetration as Nigeria struggles at 21%

By Adeyemi Adepetun
31 January 2018   |   4:27 am
The United Kingdom Government has disclosed that 95 per cent of premises within the country now have access to superfast broadband.

Stakeholders worry over delay in licensing of InfraCos
The United Kingdom Government has disclosed that 95 per cent of premises within the country now have access to superfast broadband.

U.K. Minister for Secretary of State, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, who announced the milestone, praised the government, especially for deeming it possible to encourage superfast broadband rollouts in areas deemed less commercially attractive by operators.

This is coming on the heels of Nigeria’s struggle towards attaining a 30 per cent penetration set for end of this year. Nigeria currently has 21 per cent penetration.

Hancook explained that over the last five years, the government’s rollout of superfast broadband has made superfast speed a reality for more than 4.5 million homes and businesses, who would otherwise have missed out.

“We’ve delivered on our commitment to reach 95 per cent of homes and businesses in the U.K., but there’s still more to do in our work building a Britain that’s fit for the future. We’re reaching thousands more premises every single week, and the next commitment is to making affordable, reliable, high speed broadband a legal right to everyone by 2020,” he stated.

The U.K. Government categorises superfast broadband as a connection which is able to deliver speeds of 24 Mbps or faster. In the rural communities and those less attractive to profit-hungry telcos, these government initiatives are claimed to have 50,000 new local jobs and generating an additional £8.9billion in turnover.

Though, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has assured that Nigeria would meet and surpass the 30 per cent penetration target, however, stakeholders are sort of sceptical. They based their argument on the National Broadband Plan (NBP), which is not been followed adequately.

According to them, the NBP is a five-year plan (2013 to 2018), with each year having a particular target, “but as it is now, we are nowhere near achieving any substantial part of the plan. So, achieving 30 per cent penetration by year end appears bleak.”

Besides, they explained that the operating environment and policies of government in relation to deployment and protection of telecommunications infrastructure does not encourage investment.

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, expressed concern over issues of interference by state government agencies and their consultants in shutting down operators’ base stations as well as lack of strong will on the part of the Federal Government in driving stakeholders to bring about stability in the industry.

“How can you achieve 30 per cent broadband penetration when efforts that are supposed to be channelled to network optimisation are used in repairing shut down towers by state government agencies?” he queried.

From his perspective, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, agreed that there is no basis for comparing Nigeria with U.K., especially from the level of developed infrastructure to favourable government policies, to harmonised tax systems, to various incentives and regular power supply. “So in Nigeria, all these are not available. You can imagine how difficult it has been for us to meet 30 per cent. I think our government should wake up.”

To the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, “the industry is worried about the fact that at the end of Jan 2018, NCC has not officially approved the remaining InfraCo licences. Besides, the 21 per cent penetration has stagnated with no obvious investments being made by our members and others in the industry to roll out extensive optic fibre or carry out any relevant CAPEX program spending.

“The Ministry of Communications has created a committee to look into the harmonisation of Rights of Ways in the country. However, there isn’t yet any implementation and a way forward in addressing the many market gaps that exist in the broadband landscape. As always, ATCON is engaging with government to address the issues that are delaying the approval of the remaining InfraCo licences and is placing emphasis on the need to work with government to remove barriers to Rights of Ways.”

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, had at different times promised to complete the licensing of the remaining five InfraCos to facilitate wholesale broadband deployment across the various regions of the country. At the last quarter of 2017, Danbatta, who disclosed that about 60 companies had submitted bids for licensing, said the commission would complete the process last year, but nothing of such happened.

The Chief Executive Officer, MainOne Cables, Ms. Funke Opeke, stated that Nigeria has immense broadband capacity because of the submarine fibre optic cables connected through Europe. She however, lamented that only about 10 per cent of that capacity has been utilised.

Opeke believed that the advantages brought by broadband outweigh this, particularly for rural areas. According to her, “One has to consider the enablement that such access to the Internet would bring in terms of education, job opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities, access to social services, and the ability to secure our environment.”