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Stakeholders in the nation’s ICT sector gathered in Abuja recently to appraise the performance of the 30 per cent broadband target set for the country between 2013 and 2018 by the National Broadband Plan.

The event featured participants in the industry including, investors, regulators, government representatives as well as professionals in the sector.

This came one month after it was announced that Nigeria surpassed the five-year target of 30 per cent by attaining 31.8 per cent as at December 2018.

The discussion focused on the theme: The National Broadband Plan 2013-2018: Success, Prospects and Challenges and was organised by the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria, ATCON.

President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola set the ball rolling by informing the gathering that the purpose of the meeting was principally to see how the entire industry could work towards achieving a greater broadband penetration  in the next five years having acquired enough experience with the journey of the last five years.

The industry suggested that having surpassed 30 percent in five years without much experience, it could be realistic to aim at 70 percent in the next five years.

However, participants agreed that actualisation was also dependent on how fast the industry could do away with obstacles that worked against the initial plan.

Teniola in his opening speech  noted that the previous plan helped all stakeholders to have a focus as to what should have been done to ‘shift the dial’ in deepening the broadband penetration.

“Now that the plan has come to an end, the industry needs a new one as a matter of urgency in order to lay a further foundation leading the industry to a truly digital transformation that has 5G as a central vehicle for collaborative innovations to grow our GDP and raise our GDP per capita in five years’ time”, he said.

Meanwhile, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC,  Prof. Umar Danbatta noted that Broadband networks deliver benefits across the whole of society in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals in every sector.

He said the Federal Government’s first step was to establish clear strategies and milestones for the attainment of affordable, accessible and available broadband infrastructure and services through the Nigerian National Broadband Plan, NBP.

He said: “The NBP is designed to be implemented over a span of five years ((2013-2018), targeting a five-fold increase of broadband penetration. The target areas of the NBP document are policy and regulation, enabling infrastructure, costing and pricing, funding and investment, driving demand, building fiber infrastructure, wireless broadband infrastructure and upgrading,” he noted.

Challenges of NBP

For him, the major challenges of the NBP included “inadequate metro fiber infrastructure in several towns and cities that will effectively distribute in the hinterland the adequate bandwidth from international submarine cables at the landing point in Lagos of more than nine terabits.

He said that arbitrary Right of Way, RoW, charges, multiple regulation and taxation and delays in obtaining site acquisition permits were also serious bottlenecks to the NBP.

In addressing the NBP challenges, tDanbatta said the NatNCC deliberately developed a Strategic Vision Plan, SVP, which is in sync with the Commission’s Strategic Management Plan, SMP.

He noted that: “The implementation of the Commission’s SVP roadmap has so far resulted in the attainment of 30.9 per cent broadband penetration as at November 2018. What this connotes is that, a total of 58,965,478 were connected to the broadband networks out of 108,457,051 internet subscribers in the nation’s telecom networks. The figures rose in December to 60,087,199 taking the penetration to 31.48 per cent.

“The Commission is  working with the NBC as mandated by the National Frequency Management Council, NFMC to develop guidelines for the introduction of TV White Space, TVWS development in the country. This will further deepen broadband penetration.

“Yet even more pertinent to broadband penetration is the fact that six infrastructure companies (InfrasCos) have been licensed to drive the development of infrastructure across the nation’s geographical zones and Lagos,” Danbatta added.

In his own address, the Director-General of National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, represented by Director of Corporate Planning and Strategy, Dr Agu Collins, said: ‘‘This is the event that will help assess the National Broadband Plan 2013-2018, in terms of its achievements, challenges, and way forward, thereby increasing broadband penetration in the country within the next five years.’’

However, the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu in his submission said  over the years Nigeria has been improving its use of ICT-enabled services to drive socio-economic activities and has created enormous need for sustainable broadband capacity and improved quality of services.

The Minister added that he was dissatisfied with the 31.8 per cent penetration for Nigeria but assured that the Council has been reviewing the progress made so far, and identified areas of program adjustment to permit the realisation of new and emerging opportunities, including development of an Integrated National Broadband Backbone; development of National Policy on Open Access; constitution of Inter-Ministerial Committee on ICT Convergence and related issues; engagement of Strategic Partners on specific issues,such as RoW, Funding, Tax waivers among others.

He listed the gaps identified in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2013 – 2018, to include the omission of key stakeholders on the responsibility matrix, Funding and investment modalities to be addressed in the new plan; and participation of all stakeholders in the review process through suggestions to improve on the new strategy document.

He reminded the participants that the Ministry on the other hand, has developed some critical policy documents to guide interested investors and industry players and to engender trust. Some of the policy documents include; the e-Government Masterplan; the Local Content Guideline, and ICT Roadmap etc.

Presenting overview of the Broadband Plan 2013-2018, MD/CEO of Stephen Allen Associates, Mr. Osondu Nwokoro acknowledged the recent feat attained by Nigeria on broadband penetration but observed that the challenge remains speed.

He said if Rwanda could achieve high broadband penetration six years ago, Nigeria should be challenged to do more to get where it should be.

Osondu, who decried the poor fibre deployment in the country said infrastructure sharing is lacking and should be encouraged among various players to boost the level of penetration.

Meanwhile, the event later went into panel discussions where participants arrived at the following resolutions:

That that government has done well in the implementation of Broadband Plan but must act on Right of Way and multiple taxation which have remained serious challenges to the sector. They stressed the need for synergy among industry players and also agreed that there must be collaborative efforts between government, regulatory and private sector in driving the new broadband plan.

The Panel contended that if Nigeria is serious about achieving broadband plan, the  government should float a Telecommunications Infrastructure Bank, similar to what is obtainable in the oil and gas and agricultural sectors, because the current banking interest in the country is not favourable to the sector.

That Nigeria must come to the realization that transit is dead in the country because network providers have been treating content providers as consumers.

For them, we must focus on restating local content and find ways to start utilizing available infrastructure, having huge content in our disposal, insisting that we must not miss the boat the second time.

They said we must devise means to share available infrastructure to ensure that all data are hosted in Nigeria, insisting that any act of hosting data outside the shores of the country should be considered counterproductive, believing that hosting data locally will bring cost of internet down.

In doing that, they noted that NigComSat is good and needs to be included in the broadband plan but warned that the company should not behave like a typical government entity but as business entity by advertising its services price point that can compete favourably with other brands, if it truly wants to be integrated.

They also said we must look at issues of expatriates taking over jobs for local capacities without giving them certain percentage stipulated in the law and urged that we must find ways to domesticate innovation in digital space.

According them, Nigeria is in dare need of local solutions to her name which we can put our thump on, and argue that local Content Policy has not been protected enough by government and should be engaged to do so.

They observed that experience and skills we build over the years are not translating into gains for us and urged that we must have strong will for this to happen. For them, there has to be deliberate effort by government to protect and encourage local content.

On the veracity of the 31.8% broadband penetration claim by the NCC, the stakeholders said we need to question the claim and come up with better strategy for the future plan.

Also, they said there is need to be focused, consistent on previous achievements and then assign responsibilities to operators and regulator for faster delivery. It was also agreed that ATCON should push for new Local Content Draft Policy and ensure its manifestation. They reasoned that if there is any will to realise the Local Content policy, it has to start with government and private sector must push government to do the needful.

In the same vein, without proper gazetting of the ICT Act, they said there is little the country can achieve. For them, one boat we must not miss is local content boat because we live in a global system.

They equally agreed that taxation law must be reviewed now to reflect current realities and take the three layers of government involved in the implementation into consideration. In doing so, we must ensure that no government uses the law at the detriment of the people.

They said funding being provided for Infracos should be made available to all Infracos across the country, adding that there is need for a wholesale pricing peg for operators not to go out of business.

They further resolved that the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF can be rejigged to meet the objective for which it was established and this has to be incorporated into the new plan as a way of pushing faster broadband penetration.

Other resolutions reached by the panel include: There has to be incentives and tax breaks for investors for the plan to push mobile phone prices down. They advised government to look into giving out low cost loans or grants if we want to build infrastructure in the underserved areas.

However, discussants emphasised importance of Loan Guarantees by government and tax exemptions integrated into new broadband plan.

Similarly, they adduced that we should develop Social Licenses so as to leverage adjacent services available in the ecosystem.

It was stressed for us to strengthen our capacity more from what it is presently to what we it should be and that every government ICT establishment must have renewable energy facility point as part of new broadband plan.

Participants resolved that the issue of funding is a major factor because telecom requires huge CAPEX. That we can talk about 70% penetration but if we do not have money we cannot do it.

Also, it was agreed that state governors and Local Government chairmen are critical and that as long as we do not secure their buy-in, we will get stuck in the middle.

Again, the stakeholders equally resolved that ICT related policies must be constantly reviewed to reflect the contemporary realities.

According them, there is urgent need for a clearing house kind of arrangement between ATCON and ALTON to reduce cost for both service providers and consumers. The collaboration should also be used to cover all unserved areas.

Effort they said should be geared towards connecting fibre to all base stations in order to provide good user experience services.

Other area agreed upon is that there must be constant consultation with Government for effective implementation of policies and there must be explicit target and way to monitor implementation of the new plan. For them, government must act on policies put before it to encourage investors.

Government should come up with solutions that will address the infrastructure vandalism and RoW challenge.

The panel further resolved that we need to uniformise ourselves and stop personalizing the issues as an individual companies and as industry players, we need to tap into ourselves as much as we need to in order to gain more.

They averred that we need a policy that will stimulate demand as seen in other countries to support the ICT industry, since a lot has been done on supply side but little on demand side.

They said we need innovative ways to get some guarantees that will support investments in underserved and unserved areas. In doing this, industry players have to come up with economics of scale.

They noted that we need accountability as one of the weaknesses we have presently, noting that we must ensure enabling environment is created for all investor and not necessarily for indigenous investors.

According to them, there is a huge trust deficit among players and so, we need to trust and compete among ourselves. For them, it is not as if we do not know what to do but the will to get it done.

They said broadband plan is a fantastic package but it lacks the right skills to deliver the expectations.

They stressed the need to address price war by putting in place a price balance in the market and also minimise irresponsible behaviour in the system. We must constantly engage government until we achieve what we want it to be.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Emmanuel Elebeke

Quelle/Source: Vanguard, 27.02.2019

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