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Broadband in Nigeria after the 2013 - 2018 National Broadband Plan

Posted by News Express | 6 February 2019 | 1,054 times

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•ALTON National Chairman, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo

Nigeria having almost achieved fully the needed level of connectivity required to match the creative energies being released on a daily basis for the creation of a data-driven economy and still strutting to greater heights notwithstanding the daunting challenges can rightly be declared a member of the global information society. This achievement, which is the result of building a telecommunication infrastructure superstructure, has seen the country having as high as about 98% coverage and more than 31% broadband penetration, not just to the under-served areas but crucially also to the unserved areas of the country.

For a country like Nigeria with an unpretentious need to latch onto the global knowledge based economy which sees information and data as the fifth factor of production for its intellectually, materially and psychologically mobile citizens, factoring broadband services for its economic and other activities becomes a must do. Broadband networks offer perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make rapid and solid advances in global social and economic development – across all sectors, including healthcare, education, new job opportunities, transportation, agriculture, and trade and government services. In the twenty-first century, broadband networks therefore need to be considered as basic critical infrastructure, like roads, railways, water and power networks. Little wonder so much was put into growing the concept in Nigeria in response to the exponential demand for data to levels of productivity and creativity by the government, private sector and indeed all in the telecommunications sector.

Indeed, going into counting the cost of cable transmission infrastructure, satellite and microwave system, access networks among other inputs deployed in the building of this superstructure will certainly redirect the course of this discuss. The good thing is that a knowledge-based and globally competitive society made up of communities with high speed internet and broadband access that facilitates faster socioeconomic advancement of its people was envisioned, studiously encapsulated in the 2013 – 2018 Nigerian National Broadband Plan and fully implemented to the fulfillment of all the initiators and the betterment of the entire nation. It is however very pertinent to have a deep reflection on the inputs that gave us these wholesome services versus the minimum broadband speed required to deliver a Class of Service (CoS) and Quality of Service (QoS) found adequate by the consumer and summed up in the broadband ecosystem.

This is considered in terms of an ecosystem that provides a holistic view to the various components required to deliver an end to end solution in the provision of broadband services. Investments therein led to the availability of networks and services, the relevance of the service to the user, and affordability as major planks. Three broad sources of investment and funding for the build-out of broadband infrastructure as provided here are private sector capital, government intervention funds, and Public Private Partnership funds. This is network & services availability (the supply side) which refers to the existence of network infrastructure that provides access to broadband which takes multiple forms, including wired or wireless, fixed or mobile, terrestrial or satellite, and different types of networks with different capabilities, benefits and costs. Third is the fibre backbone infrastructure which is essential for delivering broadband. Noteworthy is the fact that last mile access technologies can either be wire line or wireless.

It is desirable that this layer of physical fibre infrastructure attains depth of capacity and pervasive coverage as even wireless technology requires fibre infrastructure as in the Fibre to the Base Station/Tower or Fibre to the Node, in order to deliver the robust mobile broadband (3G, 4G/LTE) services that support high-speed user access. Additionally, satellite solutions provide long distance wireless broadband delivery capabilities for the hard to reach and difficult areas, typically rural, low population density hinterland areas. These and more as were set out to be achieved in the plan that has just run out is believed to have been attained.

One of the sector’s main voices, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, National Chairman of Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operator of Nigerian (ALTON) speaking to News Express ICT Monitor on the implementation of the 2013 – 2018 National Broadband Plan, said personally and in his capacity as the chairman of ALTON, he is satisfied and in fact proud to be identified with the plan and its implementation.

His words: “Yes, the five-year plan set to achieve 30% broadband penetration has not just been achieved but surpassed with about 1.5%. This is even despite our industry operating in the same national infrastructure ecosystem that has to deal with problems of energy, security, difficulty of right of way,  access, multiple taxation, problems of incessant closure of sites by all manners of agencies of government particularly in the states and despite these challenges, the sector has trudged on in excellence and today it has become the nation’s most personalised service, it has become the infrastructure of infrastructures, a major driver of our socio economic activities.

“It is factual that in this 21st century Nigeria, as in the whole world, broadband networks ought to be considered as basic critical infrastructure, like roads, railways, water and power networks. This is because Broadband networks offer perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make rapid and solid advances in global social and economic development – across all sectors, including healthcare, education, new job opportunities, transportation, agriculture, and trade and government services.”

Engr Adebayo harping further on the gains of broadband as it is shaping the nation’s economic direction said: “It goes without any coaxing that out of every three shoppers in the land, two pay online without any exchange of cash. It goes to say that we are adapting closely to digital payment and other e-transactions – digital economy is here with us. Imagine today if there is any small event in even in the remotest part of the country, it is all over the country and the world in a matter of seconds.

“What we are pledging to Nigerians and the world is that we will continue to lead them on in this sphere in terms of quality, in terms of adaptation. We will continue the encouragement of this digital economy. Let me also put in here that the government must also step up their acts. Their failure in the area of security of our sectors’ investments as promised at the inauguration of the 2013 – 2018 National Broadband Plan committee is quite discouraging.

“For emphasis, government said it will classify all public ICT/broadband infrastructure deployed under a national license as a critical national security and economic resource that must be protected from vandalisation, theft, unauthorised tampering and from enforcement action by any authority without a valid order from a high court possibly through the enactment of an ICT Critical Infrastructure Act, among other actions for the administrative protection of this security sensitive and economically important infrastructure. This was never implemented rather we had a situation where at a point our facilities like generators, cables, etc, were being vandalised and many carted away. You can imagine the cost on us directly and indirectly. It was also telling on the subscribing public in terms of services disruption. I am glad to say that that has reduced quite much as many Nigerians, having realised the deep importance of these services now protect the facilities even at no cost on us.

“There are also issues of access of way, multiple taxation as being created by agents of governments, more at the states level for which our sites are often shut down. These must be looked at critically to continue to encourage broadband and ICT development in the country.

Broadband services and ICT in general have proved to be more efficient, more productive hence their having the right impact on the nation’s economy. We have contributed more than any other sector to the nations GDP in the last 19 years. In terms of availability, I can proudly say that beyond air, natural light and water, telecom services are the most available in the country. With over 98% coverage, we have more telecom services than we have toilets in the country. What we are looking at now is deeper adaptation of the packages like e-government, e-commerce, e-health, e-agriculture and others which invariable fall under individuals and sectional adaptability.”  

Engr. Adebayo also gave kudos to the regulatory bodies that were not only part of the committee but did their jobs so well that beyond the Plan’s lifespan, the years ahead looks quite green for the industry.

He said: “Activities of National Communications Commission, NCC, National Information Technology Development Agency NITDA, National Universities Commission NUC. The Commission implemented the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN), in recognition of the critical role that research and networking play in the development of an education system, and indeed a nation state. It drove the establishment of a foundation that ensured universities could communicate, collaborate, access and share knowledge across national and international boundaries for the purpose of research and learning with added capabilities that offered efficiencies of unified communications and consolidation of digital content. This includes the likes of Digital Bridge Institute DBI that have played wonderful roles in the attainment of this feat on broadband delivering on their mandates.

“It has become obvious that vandalism of ICT infrastructure is a clear and present danger stymieing the provision of quality services to Nigerians as well as causing headaches for operators and the government which makes the country’s refractory and sore-footed approach to the protection of critical infrastructure particularly ICT facilities worrisome.

“Governments at all levels have refused to give needed attention and actually secure critical infrastructure in the ICT sector knowing quite well that these infrastructure are the backbone of Nigeria’s economy, security, and health. In simple terms, it provides the essential services that underpin Nigerian society. This is quite disturbing particularly as most Nigerians and the government seem to be non-challant about this issue as most others simply regard ICT infrastructure as fat cow which everybody must milk.

“The campaign since 2010 and clearly outlines in the National Broadband Plan 2013 – 2018, to declare telecom equipment as critical national infrastructure has been at best rag tag and loosely coordinated with governments; legislature; and the private sector on different pages.

“In the absence of strategic guidance to public and private partners to promote the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure; there have been growing targeted attacks on these infrastructures particularly on ICT equipment, infrastructure and their workers.

“For instance, in a state in the south east, vandals are now so brazen that leave notes with their addresses after vandalising ICT equipment and ask owners to come and pay for them. Such disruptions not only disconnect subscribers, but also cause embarrassment to businesses and national security with rippling effects on the economy, including reduced investment, job losses and reduced taxable income.

“The country is simply under the siege of growing army of criminals, and the numbers of people who are dying in their hands are higher than some countries hit by natural disasters or civil wars.

The campaign for the protection of telecommunications equipment must be reinvigorated.

“It has been proven that most vandals do not have clear motives for their acts. It is therefore important to raise awareness on the critical nature of the infrastructure and begin to change Nigerians mindsets.

“The aim is to make Nigerians see ICT infrastructure as a national resource which must be protected just like railway and electricity infrastructure.

“The National Assembly must also give the critical infrastructure bill the seriousness it deserves because ICT infrastructures are like the central nervous system of communications.

Government should also beef up security around ICT infrastructure nationwide to prevent vandals from destroying critical economic infrastructure.”

*EDITOR’S NOTEPlease keep a date next week Wednesday for the detailed interview with the ALTON Chairman.                                                        

Source: News Express

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