By Nwobodo Chidiebere
As at 2012, Nigeria’s broadband penetration rate was put at six per cent, which means the country is seeking to achieve 30 per cent penetration by the end of 2018. The thought-provoking question is: why is the development of broadband so critical to Nigeria? The reasons are not far-fetched. Broadband has been globally acknowledged as the foundation for the nation’s transformation to a knowledge-based economy. It is also widely acknowledged that broadband infrastructure is an enabler for economic and social growth of the economy.
World Bank studies showed that in low and middle-income countries, every 10 per cent point increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38 percentage points. Interestingly, across the globe today, nations both developed and developing are striving to ensure their citizen have access to broadband services. Various countries are coming up with broadband plans to address their peculiar broadband needs.
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan approved the country’s national broadband plan for the period 2013 to 2018, which was inaugurated by the government in September 2012, and was presented to the President by Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson in June 2013. The main aim of the Committees, which was chaired and co-chaired by former Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Engr. Ernest Ndukwe and Visafone Communications Limited founder, Jim Ovia respectively, is to increase broadband penetration by five times by the end of 2017. The National broadband plan outlined a number of ways in which the government aimed to achieve this, including; establishing policies that regard ICT networks and installations as critical national infrastructure that qualify for special government protection; promoting transparency of pricing and reduction of rollout costs by encouraging infrastructure sharing and interconnections and introducing price caps where necessary or when market forces fail, taking necessary regulatory measures to ensure better performance levels in the delivery of broadband services; facilitating rapid rollout of wireless and wired-line infrastructure and providing incentives to encourage a national 3G wireless coverage to at least 80 percent of the population by 2018, and the release of more spectrum for broadband services, especially for Long Term Evolution (LTE).
The just concluded Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) conference held in Abuja; provided the much-needed platform for relevant stakeholders in Telecoms sector across Commonwealth nations to rob minds on how to enhance access to broadband services. The 11th CTO conference, which theme was “Innovation through Broadband”, also, gave stakeholders the opportunity to review the challenges and successes of broadband development across CTO member nations. During the CTO conference, this lasted for three consecutive days, Nigerian Communication Commission, (NCC) through its executive Vice Chairman; Dr. Eugene Juwah highlighted the successes recorded by the nation’s telecom regulator in broadband development across the country via Universal Service Provision Fund, (USPF). Dr. Juwah said that other African countries are currently examining Nigeria’s USPF to expand telecoms access in their respective countries.
Universal Service Provision Fund,(USPF) was conceived in the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 as a mechanism for providing information and communications technologies access to un-served and under-served communities, in an attempt to bridge digital divide among communities in country. Out of the two and half percent levy on income which telecommunications operators pay to NCC as Annual operating levy, 40 percent go into USPF. According to Dr. Juwah, the Fund is now being used to expand ICT infrastructure and by extension, broadband access to rural areas in the country. He reckoned that while access to ICT in these cities was appreciable in Nigeria, especially in the area of voice and data services, there was a huge access gap in the rural Nigeria.
The importance and merits of broadband development cannot be over-emphasised, especially for a country like Nigeria that is still struggling to create jobs for the teeming population of youths that are unemployed; at the same time accelerate the development of its critical infrastructure through broadband penetration; not only to empower the youths through job creation but to develop its human capital, because America and the developed world are great today, not because of their petroleum reserves, but as a result of their unsurpassed intellectual capital, the collective knowledge and wisdom of their people. For Nigeria to join the world’s top 20 economies, it should not delude itself that it will be because of its petroleum revenues; but as a result of the technological knowledge of future generations which can be actualized through broadband innovation. Dr. Eugene Juwah, the EVC of NCC subscribed to this belief when he was quoted as saying: “ICT has helped many countries across the world build robust economies, which in turn brought many of their citizens from the prison of want and poverty to prosperity and abundance. For instance, China has leveraged technology enabled innovation to transform its economy into the second largest in the world, behind the United States of America.”
It has become crystal clear that no nation can develop its ICT sector without the provision of enabling environment to aid broadband innovations through internet penetration by investing heavily in the development of ICT critical infrastructure. Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, during the CTO conference enumerated the growth of ICT infrastructure in Nigeria in the past few years. “Approximately 30,000km of fibre had been laid as at 2010 and we estimate that an additional 11,000km was laid since then (of which 4,000 was over power line). However, additional fibre is mainly duplications along a few commercial routes. Bandwidth capacity on undersea fibre-optic networks had increased significantly in the past years. She stressed. She equally used the opportunity to impress on service providers to depoly more Base Transceiver Stations, (BTS) across the country; not only to enhance broadband penetration in Nigeria, but to improve on quality of service offered to subscribers through network decongestion.
Chidiebere writes from Abuja.