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NCC: Sustaining broadband penetration drive

With a target of 70 per cent penetration by 2025, Nigeria has embarked on another auspicious journey in realising its ubiquitous broadband vision. Pivotal to the realisation of this dream is the Nigerian Communications, which, as telecoms regulator, has been spearheading the project through various initiatives. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

 

Broadband penetration in Nigeria has maintained a steady rise in the last few years leading to a record of 43.3 per cent as of August this year. Industry data revealed that some 82.6 million subscribers in the country are now on broadband.

 

The August figure showed that broadband penetration in the country grew by 1.28 per cent in one month. On average, Nigeria has been recording 1 per cent penetration growth in the last few years, thus raising hope for the 70 per cent target as set in the National Broadband Plan (2020-2025).

 

Suffice to note that the telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) headed by Prof. Umar Danbatta, has been the driven force of this project

 

Broadband as priority

 

 

Coming on board as the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC in 2015, Danbata had unveiled an eight-point agenda in which broadband is the flagship.

 

 

At that time, broadband penetration in Nigeria was less than six per cent. However, acknowledging the imports of the report of the Broadband Commission established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) showing that broadband access in every country is key to accelerating any development, coupled with the provisions of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2013- 2018, which set a target of 30 per cent penetration for Nigeria by 2018, NCC embarked on key policy initiatives to improve broadband penetration.

 

These include increasing the number of licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCo) to six across the geopolitical zones, spectrum re-firming, spectrum re-planning, and spectrum auctions, administrative spectrum assignments, among others.

 

 

Apart from meeting and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration in December 2018, as at the deadline for the NNBP 2013-2018 target, NCC increased broadband penetration to 43.30 per cent as of August 2020 from six per cent in 2015. This translates to 82,653,247 broadband subscriptions in the country. This has helped in the area of increased digital economic activities across all the sectors of the economy.

 

That is e-commerce, digital financial services, e-health, e-transport, e-agriculture, e-education, e-security, and     so on. InfraCo drive Recognising that the current state of infrastructure could not achieve the country’s target, NCC had come up with the initiative of licensing Infrastructure Companies (InfraCo) to drive the speedy rollout of infrastructure across the country.

 

According to Danbatta, the commission set out to license the Infra- Cos with the sole purpose of bridging existing infrastructure gaps in the country. “In line with our determination to drive broadband access, we have six (6) licensed INFRACOs, with one in each geo-political zone of the country. “Lagos state receives special recognition and possesses its own license because of its commercial centrality to the country.

 

The seventh license for the North-Central region is being processed,” Danbatta said at a recent forum. Earlier this week, the Commission had constituted a committee to review the framework for the licensing of InfraCos and recommend sustainable funding options for effective implementation of the proposed national fibre project.

 

NCC said the review became imperative in view of the delays in take-off, change in the exchange rate, supply chain, and other challenges imposed by the COVID- 19.

 

According to the commission’s Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, the constitution of the committee was a sequel to the requirements of the new Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP 2020-2025) and reports of relevant committees set up by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which include the Inter-Ministerial Review Committee on Multiple Taxation on Telecommunications Operators over Right-of-Way (RoW) and the Technical Sub-Committee on Right-of-Way for Deepening Broadband Penetration in Nigeria.

 

“So far, the committee set up by the Commission has met with all the six licensed InfraCos as well as the preferred bidder for the North Central zone. The committee is also looking at the challenges facing the InfraCo project, the need for accelerated deployment of fibre infrastructure, means of mitigating the exorbitant RoW charges, among others.

 

“The commission is also working actively with the Broadband Implementation Steering Committee (BISC), as constituted by the Hon. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy based on the recommendations and requirements of the NNBP 2020-2025,” NCC said in a statement.

 

Deepening connectivity

 

Speaking last week at a virtual forum organised by the Nigeria Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA) Danbatta had reiterated the commission’s commitment to further deepening connectivity across the country.

 

According to him, “as a fall out   of the COVID-19, many have been forced to work from home; government services have moved to online portals; our kids now attend virtual classes; lectures and conferences are now virtual; e-commerce has seen a significant boom globally; online payment for goods and services have now increased threefold; logistics and delivery businesses have seen a huge surge in demand for their services.”

 

“All of the above require reliable means of connectivity and the NCC has continued to work vigorously with industry partners and stakeholders in ensuring that the nation’s ICT infrastructure is able to meet the increasing demand for connectivity,” he said.

 

 

Danbatta noted that to achieve rapid connectivity the commission had to engage with stakeholders to facilitate infrastructure deployment in the sector.

 

“To this end, the commission has intensified its engagement, collectively with Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and individually with state governors to push the National Economic Council’s resolutions on multiple taxations, multiple regulations and minimum uniform Right of Way (RoW) charges, as well as address other issues impeding telecoms infrastructure deployment in some states.

 

“Furthermore, we are working with the Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council (critical Infrastructure Sub- Committee) under the auspices of the Vice President on various initiatives towards identifying and implementing initiatives aimed at improving broadband penetration in the country,” he said.

 

Eyes on 5G

 

The commission said it was taking the broadband project a notch higher with the efforts on ensuring 5G deployment in Nigeria.

 

 

According to the EVC, the socio-economic benefits of the expansion in telecommunications capabilities embarked upon by the commission would be of immense benefit to the country, especially with the rollout of the 5G technology, which currently is being test-run in about 40 countries. He added that this would be a significant upgrade for networks and will be the backbone for the ICT industry post-pandemic recovery.

 

“According to the ITU, 5G technology is expected to connect people, things, data, applications, transport systems, and cities in smart networked communications environments. 5G is meant to seamlessly connect a massive number of embedded sensors in virtually everything through the ability to scale down in data rates, power, and mobility – providing extremely lean and low-cost connectivity solutions.

 

“The commission is vigorously working to establish a policy for 5G with multi-sector Stakeholders, including the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), The Academia, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Industry Consultative Advisory Forum (ICAF) and a host of others.

 

“Our goal is that when the Federal Government is able to establish a policy that will drive 5G, all the benefits of 5G will be properly harnessed by Nigerians.

 

The commission is also working to ensure the safety of 5G networks in Nigeria by having a multi-stakeholder approach in environmental impact analysis on the use of 5G and the Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) impact on humans in Nigeria. Once this is done, Nigerians can safely utilize 5G and reap all the economic, human, and material benefits of 5G,” Danbatta stated.

 

The EVC added that the economic benefits of 5G to Nigeria post-coronavirus pandemic would be huge, especially as almost all businesses and activities of government are migrating and offering their services online. He said 5G would enable a new kind of network for Nigerians designed to connect virtually everyone and everything including machines, objects, and devices.

 

It will usher in the era of the Internet of Things and faster innovation in Artificial Intelligence applications.

 

Last line

 

As the government agency, responsible for creating an enabling environment for competition among operators in the industry as well as ensuring the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country, NCC must sustain its current broadband drive.

 

Its laudable initiatives such as the InfraCo model, negotiations for RoW charges downward review, among several others must be pursued to yield ubiquitous broadband for Nigerians.

 

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