July 17 2013 / Contributed by Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie
On May 30 2013 the National Broadband Plan 2013-2018, which aims to achieve a fivefold increase in broadband penetration in Nigeria by 2018, was submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan by the minister of communications technology and the Presidential Committee for a National Broadband Strategy and Roadmap. The committee was inaugurated by the president on September 20 2012.
Nigeria's broadband reality
According to statements made by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) – the telecommunications sector regulator – and Minister of Communications Technology Omobola Johnson, broadband penetration is at a very low 6%,(1) even though Nigeria has an internet penetration of between 28% and 33%. Nigeria has a population of over 167 million,(2) with more than 116 million active lines. The plan therefore aims to increase broadband penetration fivefold to 30% by 2018.
Several operators have successfully landed submarine cables in Lagos that provide over 9 terabits per second of combined capacity, which has enhanced the infrastructure and will help to accommodate the planned increase in broadband penetration. The network roll-out of a number of licensees has also resulted in the installation of a fibre-optic backbone infrastructure in all Nigerian states and the Federal Capital Territory. However, these fibre-optic cables are not interconnected and are concentrated in the state capitals and a few urban areas. Several seemingly 'unprofitable' routes have not been serviced, even though some other routes have multiple fibre installations.
The low level of broadband penetration in Nigeria has not been helped by the fact that the incumbent operator, Nigerian Telecommunication Limited (NITEL), has been out of operation for a number of years. Three previous attempts to privatise NITEL and its subsidiary, MTEL, have been unsuccessful. Also cause for concern is the dearth of investment in fixed household broadband, primarily because of the multi-faceted challenges facing operators. So far, some operators have concentrated their household broadband activity on the major cities, such as Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
The national broadband plan identifies some of the major challenges faced by operators, such as:
• The high cost of procuring rights of way (which ultimately results in high costs for the leasing of transmission infrastructure);
• Long delays in procuring approval for such rights of way;
• Multiple forms of taxation and regulation;
• Vandalism; and
• Disruption caused by roadworks.
Generally, the high cost of doing business in Nigeria (especially in relation to power supply) is a major problem for operators. However, the Ministry of Communications Technology and the NCC have come up with some initiatives to mitigate these concerns and assist operators in achieving the goals set by the plan. Some of these recent developments are outlined below.
National broadband plan
In order to meet the target set in the plan, a significant amount of responsibility has been placed on the government, as well as the relevant agencies, ministries and parastatals. It is anticipated that the government will provide the necessary support to the private sector to ensure that the target is achieved as quickly as possible. To this end, the plan recommends that the government should:
•Establish policies that regard information communications technology (ICT) networks and installations as critical national infrastructure that qualifies for special government protection;
•Facilitate the rapid roll-out of wireless and wire-line infrastructure and provide incentives to encourage national 3G wireless coverage to at least 80% of the population by 2018;
•Ensure the release of more spectrum for broadband services, particularly for long-term evolution, in a timely manner;
•Promote pricing transparency and reduced build-out costs by encouraging infrastructure sharing and interconnections, and introducing price caps where necessary or when market forces fail;
•Take the necessary regulatory measures to ensure that performance levels in the delivery of broadband services improve;
•Foster an attractive investment climate through schemes to stimulate demand and provide concessions, tax incentives, grants or support where required;
•Intensify efforts to improve digital literacy and inclusion by using existing national assets for community access;
•Publicise the right of way guidelines and produce a geographic information system-based national fibre infrastructure map; and
•Advocate and demonstrate the benefits of broadband within the government and among the population.
As part of the Ministry of Communications Technology's latest achievements in connection with broadband access and penetration, the minister announced in June 2013 that the process for applying for rights of way had been reviewed. Consequently, an application for a right of way can now be completed within 21 days and at a reduced cost per linear kilometre of
N145,000 (approximately $93). It was reported that before the review, about 40% of the broadband build cost for long-haul (inter-state) and metro (intra-city) broadband was spent on obtaining right of way approvals – the same as the amount spent on civil works, fibre and equipment for long-haul broadband, and twice the cost of civil works, fibre and equipment for metro broadband.
The federal government has also taken steps, through the Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion Programme, to meet the demand for improved service through the installation of additional base stations and other communications infrastructure in areas identified as either unserved or under-served – primarily, the rural areas of Nigeria. A rural broadband initiative that provides wholesale internet bandwidth to internet service providers, cybercafes and ICT centres (eg, community communication centres) in rural communities is also being implemented.
The ministry is also intervening to resolve the issues around multiple regulation and taxation and increasing inter-agency conflict – especially between the NCC and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, Nigeria's federal environmental enforcement body.
It is imperative that the government take immediate steps to implement the national broadband plan. To this end, the government should urgently engage the different tiers of government to ensure that the right of way guidelines are strictly implemented and to provide the funding needed to achieve the proposed broadband penetration. The committee's report estimates that Nigeria requires around $795 million to ensure that the necessary fibre cables and other facilities are installed across the country. This is exclusive of the right of way fees and other project administration costs.
In addition, in order for the proposed plan to succeed, it is necessary for the government to ensure that local skills development and training – especially for staff of government institutions, including schools – are implemented and that the revision of existing laws and regulations and the quick enactment of cybersecurity and data privacy laws are pursued. All necessary steps to ensure quality of service should be taken in order to encourage more people to utilise broadband services in their various forms. If all these steps are taken, and the government ensures the dissemination of information, the targets sets by the national broadband plan may even be achieved before 2018.
For further information on this topic please contact Jumoke Lambo or Godson Ogheneochuko at Udo-Udoma & Belo-Osagie by telephone (+234 1 462 2307 10), fax (+234 1 462 2311) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).