ADA 2013: Stakeholders seek faster broadband deployment

Stakeholders at this year’s edition of the Africa Digital Forum have taken a critical look at the success factors for enhancing faster broadband access in the country. KUNLE AZEEZ writes.

One of the challenges confronting the nation’s Information and Communication Technology industry is the problem of last-mile broadband internet connectivity.

By all standards, Nigeria internet speed is relatively low compared to what user’s experience is like in developed countries and even in some neighbouring African countries.

Though, Nigerian telecoms sector is currently growing at 30 per cent rate annually with eight per cent contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product, the broadband penetration, which is expected to be the next big revolution that will transform the economy world, is very low in Nigeria.

According to data obtained from the Ministry of Communication Technology, broadband penetration currently stands at about 6 per cent, with a plan to drive this beyond 20 per cent by 2015 in line with the approved national broadband Plan.

While ubiquitous broadband infrastructures and services have been projected to have transformational force to improving effective and efficient service delivery in the public sector as it drives e-government, resulting in transparency in government activities, its role in aiding enthronement of a robust and more efficient private sector has also been proven by various studies.

According to the Secretary General, International Telecommunications Union, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, broadband is the next revolution that will drive global economy while countries that fail to accelerate heir broadband deployment would lag behind in the scheme of things.

Broadband simply refers to access to very fast internet speed on a larger scope, which enables an economy to be more efficient, more competitive and more productive, as having such internet speed allows for efficiency, effectiveness and more productivity.

Thus, the organisers of this year’s edition of the Africa Digital forum & Africa Digital Awards Hall of Fame 2013 held in Lagos, thus deemed it appropriate to beam a searchlight on broadband with speakers at the forum identifying the cogs in the wheel of progress of the implementation of broadband plan while proffering solutions to the identified threats.

Guest speaker at the forum and Osun Sate Governor, Ogbeni Raufu Aregbesola, who spoke on the theme of the conference ‘Deepening e-Governance, Transparency and Broadband Access’ said ICT is a veritable world of creativity and consequently a world of infinite possibilities.

Citing one of the benefits ICT deployment has brought to his state, the governor said, “One of the very first things we did on assumption of office was to re-organise and re-direct our financial remittance system through some elementary e-banking.

Like magic, this resulted immediately in 100 per cent jump in our Internally Generated Revenue without any additional income.” He, however, lamented the underutilisation of the over 10 terabytes of bandwidth capacity made available by the likes Glo 1, Main One and the West Africa Cable System, saying efforts must be made by support current efforts at transmitting broadband infrastructures across the country.

The Governor also lamented that rather than the government taking up its responsibility of building the backbone infrastructure that will take the cables to the hinterlands and then inviting the internet service providers to come in and make the services accessible and affordable, the task of building this infrastructure is left to the network providers, at huge cost, which they naturally pass on to the consumers. “So, because government has shirked in its duties, the government cannot insist on price control and optimal service provision.”

He also condemned the lack of foresight on the part of part of Federal Government by not designing cabling provision into any road construction contract being awarded.

The Chairman of the occasion and former Vice-Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, said the implementation of broadband cannot be done by the Federal Government and the operators alone.

Ndukwe said, “There is a need for synergy at the various levels of government and the private sector for effective implementation of broadband plan.” President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, noted that while Nigeria has recorded tremendous success in the area of voice service with over 121 million active telephone lines in the country till date, “the next revolution we need to strive to achieve is broadband.”

Ajayi, while listing some of the myriad of challenges confronting the deployment of broadband infrastructures which include vandalism, government bureaucracy in getting permits, multiple taxations and multiple regulations, among others, however, mentioned three variables as success factors for the nascent broadband revolution hat is brewing in the country.

The success factors, according to Lanre, include the need to address the issue of Right of Way, which he said, has become a cog in the wheel of the proposed plan of the telecoms companies to accelerate broadband deployment. “The cost of getting eth RoW is very high while the processing is also very slow.

Until we get this right, we might not be able to achieve our targets in employment broadband to drive private and public sectors’ activities,” he said. Lanre, who noted that Lagos State government has crashed the cost of RoW from N5,000 per linear metre to N500, representing about 85 per cent decrease in RoW charges, urging other states to emulate the Lagos example to encourage telecoms companies to come and invest in their respective states to drive economic development.

The second success factor for broadband deployment, he said, is the need to ensure availability and judicious utilisation of available spectrum in the country. “Most telecoms services are being deployed in Nigerian through wireless means and this means we would need adequate spectrum to be able to transmit the services from one location to another.”

The ATCON President, however, noted that the issue of spectrum is currently being taken care of as the industry regulator recently disclosed its plan to license the remaining bloc of 2.5GHz spectrum in January next year to ensure adequate frequency spectrum is made available to drive broadband services.

According to Ajayi, the third success factor for broadband deployment, should focus on the need to stimulate demand for broadband services, stressing this can be done by delivering all government activities through ICT. “On this, we should focus on e-government, e-health, e-agriculture, e-health, elearning, e-commerce and so on,” he said. “The e-commerce tempo currently is driven by the likes, and so many others that are springing up.”

President of Nigeria Internet Group, Mr. Bayo Banjo, advocated the need for government to provide incentives for telecoms companies to fast-track the broadband infrastructure rollout while The Group Managing Director, Computer Warehouse Group, Mr. Austin Okere submitted that transparency and growth can only be achieved in the public sector through the deployment of IT devices that ride on affordable broadband infrastructures.

Chairman, Teledom Group and former President of ATCON, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, insisted on the potential which broadband access offers in ensuring security of Nigeria, saying ‘There are innovative technologies that can be efficiently deployed to ensure handle our insecurity situation.”

Meanwhile, a communiqué issued at the edn of even which was signed by the programme coordinator, Mr. Tayo Adewusi, urged the Ministry of Communication Technology, in association with Presidential Steering Committee on Broadband to work with all the state governments in the country for the domestication of the broadband policy approved by the President.

The forum also inducted some industry stakeholders into the ADA Hall of Fame, 2013 with some others recognised posthumously

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