Industry stakeholders have continued to hail the federal government’s decision to review the National Broadband Plan, insisting it will help define a new roadmap for broadband penetration, writes Emma Okonji

 

 At first, Nigerians were pleased with the report submitted by the Presidential Committee on broadband, chaired by the Chairman of Openmedia Communications Limited, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and co-chaired by the Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia

They were, however, displeased with the implementation process, which they said was too slow to achieve the broadband penetration target set by the committee.




The committee, which was set up in 2012 by the then Minister of Communications Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, and inaugurated same year by former President Goodluck Jonathan, submitted its report in record time, with a target to achieve 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, up from its less than 10 per cent broadband penetration level as at 2012.

Nigerians were initially thrilled by the ambiguous 30 per cent target of the five year broadband plan. But their hopes and joy started fading out following the slow pace of the implementation process of the broadband plan, which left a lot of doubts on their minds that the country may not be able to achieve the 30 per cent broadband penetration level by 2018.

Their fears were heightened when Nigeria managed to reach 14 per cent penetration level by 2016. Although hope started rising again this year when  Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, announced that Nigeria’s mobile broadband penetration level, reached 20.95 per cent, industry experts became worried the more, when they realised that the increase came from mobile broadband, driven by mobile devices like the smartphones, since mobile broadband penetration is quite different from the actual broadband penetration, which is still crawling between 14 and 18 per cent at present.

In spite of the low broadband penetration in the country, mobile internet penetration, which is largely driven by smartphones and other mobile devices, has surpassed 53 per cent penetration level with about 81 per cent internet subscription level.

Disturbed by the slow rate of broadband penetration in the country, which has been blamed on poor implementation process, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, last week, said the country’s broadband plan would be reviewed by the end of 2018 in order to fine-tune its contents, and its implementation process, in line with global technology trends. The decision to review the broadband plan has continued to elicit commendations from industry stakeholders, who are of the view that poor implementation process was largely responsible for its slow penetration level.

NCC’s view

The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, is, however, pleased that the country’s mobile broadband penetration has reached 20.95 per cent in 2017. But he said Nigeria would have surpassed the 20.95 per cent level, if not for the insufficient broadband infrastructure in the country.




Danbatta, who expressed his views in Abuja while presenting the first progress report of the eight-point agenda he unveiled to the media in 2015, said broadband remained a flagship of the agenda.

“The active mobile broadband penetration released by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development showed that Nigeria has reached a penetration of 20.95 per cent,” Danbatta said.

He explained that the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was set up by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and UNESCO in 2010.

He said the provision of the National Broadband Plan that had a set target of 30 per cent penetration from 2013 to 2018, also accentuated emphasis on broadband penetration.

According to him, the commission recognises its prime responsibility in the actualisation of the national broadband plan; hence the commission was set up with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expanding its access in every country.

The NCC boss said that the commission was also set up as a key strategy in accelerating progress towards national and international development targets.

“We have been able to articulate a regulatory framework that will enable strategic and systematic licensing and deployment of broadband infrastructure across the country. A broadband implementation monitoring committee has also been established within the commission to give proper assessment on regular basis of broadband infrastructure deployment,” the NCC boss said, adding, “These steps are critical success factors, which we have identified and primed for various broadband initiatives.’’

 

FG’s position

In spite of NCC’s positive thought about the progress of broadband development in the country, the Ministry of Communications, which supervises NCC, is, however, still unsatisfied with the implementation process of the country’s national broadband plan.

The Minister of Communications, in a recent chat with THISDAY in Lagos, expressed his displeasure over the slow broadband penetration level in the country. He said government would review the broadband plan at the end of 2018, in order to find out its areas of weaknesses and to strengthen it. He said the review would be necessary in order to fin-tune its contents, in line with global technology trends. He also said timeframe would be considered in achieving certain parameters in the reviewed broadband plan, in order to speed up broadband penetration in the country.




“We have a broadband plan that is designed to make broadband available to all Nigerians. The broadband plan is a five year plan from 2013 to 2018, but hopefully it will be reviewed by the end of next year. By next year we will review the broadband plan and come up with new plan that will catch up with modern technology trends,” Shittu told THISDAY.

Analysing the plan further, the minister said the target of 30 per cent broadband penetration as enshrined in the plan was even a low target for Nigeria in the first instance, considering the clamour for ubiquitous broadband access by Nigerians.

He, however, said he was sure that the country would surpass the 30 per cent penetration target, given the current statistics, which he said, showed some significant growth level in the country’s broadband penetration.

According to him, “Broadband is the enabler to technology development of any nation. The issue of broadband accessibility is the key to technology development. So government wants Nigerians to come together and ensure that broadband is accessible and affordable to all Nigerians. Government is encouraging private sector investment in broadband in order to make it accessible and affordable.”

He further stated that the existing broadband infrastructure in the country would be improved to make broadband not only ubiquitous, but also accessible and affordable to all Nigerians.

 

Industry position

Worried about the implementation process of the country’s broadband plan, the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), the umbrella body of all computer professionals in the country, had earlier called on the federal government to expedite action on the full implementation of the country’s five year broadband plan.

President of NCS, Prof. Adesola Aderounmu, who called for diligent implementation of the plan, emphasised the need for the immediate enactment of a critical National Infrastructure Bill, which he said, would help deepen broadband penetration, spur economic growth and attain national safety and security.

He hailed the decision of government to review the broadband plan, which he said, would help government come up with new measures that would facilitate ubiquitous broadband access for all Nigerians.

The Chief Executive Officer, Pinnet Informatics, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who also commended the decision of government to review the broadband plan, said it would raise the hopes of industry stakeholders who were already worried about the slow implementation process of the broadband plan. According to Ajayi, infrastructure is the key to broadband penetration and government must do everything possible to develop broadband infrastructure across the country.




He expressed his displeasure over the avalanche of broadband capacities that are lying untapped at the shores of the country, without the necessary infrastructure like national backbone infrastructure to transmit most of the broadband capacities from the shores of the country to the hinterlands.

“There are lots of broadband capacities from MainOne, Glo 1, MTN WACS, and Sat 3, lying idle at the shores of the country, yet the consumption rate of the broadband capacity is less than 10 per cent because they are no backbone infrastructure that will transmit most of the capacities to the hinterlands where they are most needed,” Ajayi said.

 

Internet penetration

Although broadband is quite different from internet, Nigeria’s presence online, via the Internet, is on the increase, hence Nigeria has been ranked No1 in Africa and No 10 in the world in internet penetration. While broadband is the pipe that carries and transmits multiple channels of data over a single medium, which could be DSL line, coaxial cable, twisted pair cable or wireless broadband, at a very high speed, the internet itself is a massive network of infrastructure that connects millions of computers together globally, forming a network in which any computer can communicate with any other computer as long as they are both connected to the internet. Broadband therefore drives internet connectivity.

According to recent data Gathered by eMarkter, the world has surpassed 2.8 billion internet users, and the figure is projected to reach 3.62 billion internet users by the end of 2018.

Currently, China has the highest internet penetration with over 643.6 million users, followed by United States and India with 252.9 million and 215.6 million internet users respectively. Meanwhile Nigeria is the highest ranked African country in internet penetration, with about 57.7 million internet users, and the 10th ranked globally. Nigeria has more internet users than advanced countries like United Kingdom and France, that are ranked 11th and 12th respectively. But despite the impressive result on internet penetration level, Nigeria still ranks low in broadband penetration.

The idea behind broadband plan

On September 20, 2012, former President Jonathan inaugurated the presidential committee for national broadband policy and roadmap.

The committee, which was chaired by Ndukwe, and co-chaired by Ovia, had 15 core members representing various stakeholder groups in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. The committee was mandated to ensure that the broadband plan was workable and realistic and should be able to boost broadband penetration among the unserved and underserved.

Strategic goals of broadband plan

 The key objectives of the National Broadband Plan are to promote pervasive broadband deployment, increase broadband adoption and usage, and ensure availability of broadband services at affordable prices. It was intended that during the five year period (2013-2018), the broadband plan should see more than a-five fold increase in internet and broadband penetration figures. It was also intended that all state capitals and urban cities have metro fibre infrastructure installed, so as to boost broadband penetration in the states.

Despite the laudable goals of the broadband plan, it was unable to achieve its objectives, less than one year to the end of its five year target. It is on this note that the minister is insisting that the plan must be reviewed by the end of 2018, in order to ascertain its weaknesses for possible upgrades.