UK wants Nigerian states to prioritise broadband development
United Kingdom, through its Prosperity Fund’s Digital Access Programme, has advised states in Nigeria to prioritise broadband development for economic growth.
The UK said it recognised that rapid deployment and seamless operation of telecommunications infrastructure depends on an optimal system of issuance of planning permits for masts and towers and Right of Way (RoW) administration.
In a presentation made by the Managing Counsel of Greenfields Law and Telecommunications Policy, Law and Regulation practitioner, Osondu Nwokoro, the UK said it is keen to support the promotion of affordable, inclusive, safe and secure digital access for underserved or excluded populations.
He spoke on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFiD), at the Nigeria Technical Conference on RoW, a virtual forum.
Nwokoro said the UK Government Prosperity Fund’s Digital Access Programme, initiated this project to promote digital inclusion for underserved communities in Nigeria, in collaboration with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and other key stakeholders and partners in Nigeria.
In his presentation, it was revealed that Site Build Approvals and RoW administration structures in Nigeria are disparate and unwieldy.
He also noted that lack of clarity in fees, lack of structured approval processes, lack of defined timelines for processing, and the absence of uniform principles to govern these very critical resources are slowing down the attainment of Nigeria’s digital economy and overall growth aspirations.
Osondu said the current situation holds back the economic growth of individual states, which essentially mortgages long-term socio-economic growth for short term-revenues.
To address this, he said fundamental reforms are therefore required, with the commitment and support of all stakeholders.
In the presentation, it was recommended that to avoid rancour between states and telecommunications operators, each party must act as a development partner.
Specifically, the UK urged states to adopt one-stop-shop approval agencies, and also adopt a uniform set of approval processes, and a uniform enabling law to facilitate it.
According to Osondu, uniformity of process should be driven by the Governors’ Forum with support from the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, adding that approval structures for RoW should reflect “dig-once” policies to safeguard valuable public infrastructure.
The UK pointed out that S.135 of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), should be amended to enable NCC support uniformity and maintain discipline (through the enforcement of Infrastructure Sharing Guidelines) to help states achieve their developmental objectives.
Furthermore, the UK said Site Build Approvals and RoW administration reforms should be incorporated into the Ease of Doing Business Initiatives driven by the Office of the Vice President of Nigeria, and the Digital Readiness Index under the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025.
It recommended that operators/facility owners should partner development-friendly states by extending fibre/communications infrastructure to public institutions. It also stressed that operators should provide cost-friendly wholesale and retail tariffs to development-friendly states as incentive for cooperation.
The UK also advised the regulator, the NCC, to support development partnerships through the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), and by approving retail-based partnerships on liberal terms.
It said the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr.Isa Pantami, should engage the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to provide Special Intervention Funds for telecoms infrastructure deployment under liberal terms, as CBN has done for other industries.
On governance and reinforcements, the Minister was urged to expedite work on the establishment of a States Digital Readiness Index recommended by the NNBP 2020-2025.
NCC was also told to allow operators to charge cost-based rates for retail services so that consumers in low-cost states are not forced to subsidize services in high-cost states.
According to Osondu, facility owners and operators should commit to strict service level agreements (SLAs) in resolving environment-impacting issues and other complaints from states, with NCC serving as unbiased arbiter, and should penalise operators in breach of the SLAs.
He listed some of the benefits of pervasive broadband penetration to include that it stimulates efficiency, profitability and social well-being across all sectors and demographics; facilitates quick and easy access/sharing of local and global information among the people; creation of local technology-based jobs; facilitating technology innovation, unleashing digital/entrepreneurial creativity especially among the youths in rural and urban areas, letting them play in global markets.
Pervasive broadband, according to the UK, also enables eCommerce – facilitating youth employment and entrepreneurship.
With broadband, the UK noted that it will help in facilitating eGovernance. It recalls that Nigeria slipped two places from 141 to 143 in the global e-governance index – below countries like Mauritius, Seychelles, and South Africa, which illustrates the need to remove bottlenecks militating against broadband deployment.
The UK also noted that broadband helps in facilitating greater inclusion and citizens’ participation in governance by promoting an inclusive Nigerian society, fostering integration and greater involvement of citizens in governance. It also enhances security operations, and enables socio-economic interactions during emergencies and in usual times – Covid-19 as case in point.
Delivering the opening remarks, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, commended the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, and said: “Nigeria has seen great progress in the effort to provide inclusive digital access to millions of its citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic has however, made the world rely more heavily on internet connectivity for access to basic necessities – health, education, work, shopping, convenience and other services. As such, substantial digital inequities have been revealed.
“The UK is keen to support the promotion of affordable, inclusive, safe and secure digital access for underserved or excluded populations, and this conference is a significant step to discuss the technical findings of our preliminary study, outcomes, lingering challenges and the way forward.
“I hope that today’s deliberation will culminate into an increased digital inclusion as a basis for a more thriving local tech ecosystem, generating skilled jobs and innovative solutions for local development challenges.”
Pantami, in his keynote address said: “I want to thank the UK Government for supporting the Nigeria Digital Economy agenda. Earlier, the UK Government supported us in the development of the new National Broadband Plan through the Digital Access Programme.
“Nigeria has in the last one year of my time as Minister, added 10 per cent to the broadband penetration level in the country. RoW reforms are the key to unlocking Nigeria’s digital economy for inclusive digital growth, and we have worked with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to achieve some important results already. We will continue to champion these reforms on RoW, and work on the challenges identified by the technical study.”
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