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Road to universal telecoms access

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Road to universal telecoms access

For Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the mandate to ensure pervasive telecoms services in the country for engendering faster development in all the facets of the nation’s economy is an enduring pursuit. But the regulator believes this can be achieved through effective stakeholders’ collaborations. KUNLE AZEEZ reports

 

Despite the tremendous growth already recorded in Nigeria’s telecoms industry, the NCC has continually displayed lack of complacency on the growth so far recorded across the entire spectrum of the country’s $70 billion telecoms market.

 

Through engendering effective regulatory environment and development of policies that create a level-playing ground for all telecoms licensees supported by the laudable activities of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), the industry has witnessed massive investment, which has produced impressive growth in the telecoms ecosystem.

 

Impressive growth

 

According to available data, from less than 500,000, the total number of active phone lines in Nigeria has reached over 155 million before falling to as low as 139 million last year but finally rose to 147 million as at end of January this year.

 

The number of Internet connections across mobile networks has also increased dramatically inching towards 100 million mark, according to NCC data.

 

It is instructive that efforts at deepening increased access to telecoms services – both data and voice -services in the current broadband era has taken a much higher dimension.

 

From less than 3 per cent when the National Broadband Plan (NBP) was put in place in 2013, broadband penetration has grown to over 22 per cent, according to Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta. This is expected to reach 30 per cent before the end of this year.

 

Investment profile
Till date, over $70 billion has been invested in local and foreign direct investment in the Nigeria’s telecoms sector, with reports indicating that the country remains and will remain one of the most attractive telecoms market in years to come.

 

Although over 80,000 base stations and several thousands of kilometers of fibre optic cables are expected to be laid across the country in order to have pervasive telecoms services, the country has reached over 40,000 thresholds for base stations.

 

 

 

Internet service providers (ISPs), such as Spectranet, Smile, VDT Communications, Swift Networks, among several others have rolled out over 1,000 point of presence (PoP),!which are providing wireless telecoms access to the consumers.

 

Aside existing infrastructure, the Commission said it is committed to licensing new layers and making more frequency spectrum available to them to deploy services, given that over 90 per cent of services in Nigeria are not delivered through wireless means. Existing spectrum is being re-farmed to make them more efficient and productive.

 

Multiplying effects

 

According to a telecoms industry analyst, Mr. Akin Akinbo, one of the greatest benefits that Nigerian economy has derived from the GSM revolution being witnessed in Nigeria is the fact that we have got our economy digitised.

 

“From e-commerce, to e-banking, to e-agriculture, e-medicine or telemedicine, big data, Internet of Things, cloudification, automation in both public and private, especially in education and general public services delivery, telecoms sector has been playing a greater role,” he said.

 

Also commenting, a promoter of techprenuership, Mr. Gbega Sesan is of the view that telecoms and entire ICT industry have helped in job creation and has made many businesses move away from brick and mortal approach to running their operations.

 

According to Sesan, “Telecoms has reduced cost of doing business and interaction though it has also come with challenges such as misuse of access to Internet, for instance, where some take to perpetrating all forms of cybercrimes and subsequent loss of money by their victims.”

Continuous policy initiatives

 

One of the initiatives currently driving digital resolution in the industry is the 8-

Point agenda of the unveiled by Prof. Umar Danbatta in 2016, which provide focus for the industry, regarding where the industry is heading by 2020.

 

Topping the agenda is the Commission’s plan to facilitate broadband penetration. Other points on the Commission’s agenda include the plan to improve quality of service by promoting the availability of reliable, interoperable, rapidly restorable critical ICT infrastructure that are supportive of all required services; optimise usage and benefits of spectrum; promote ICT innovation and investment opportunities, facilitate strategic collaboration and partnership with relevant stakeholders to foster ICT for sustainable economic development, protect and empower consumers from unfair practices, promote fair competition and to ensure regulatory excellence and operational efficiency through effective regulatory framework, strict compliance and efficient processes.

 

“From all indications, the NCC has been following through in terms of the implementation of each of the agenda and we hope that if this continues, we would be in a better stead as knowledge economy by 2020,” said Chief Executive Officer of VDT, Mr. Sunday Omoniyi.

 

Teething challenges

 

While the industry has been performing well, there are existing challenges that could dampen the Commission’s pursuit for universal telecoms access if not tactically addressed.

 

“We have come of age as an industry. Have we done well? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, yes,” said President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria, Mr. Olusola Teniola.

 

Olusola specifically listed cases of multiple taxation, indiscriminate closure of telecoms live infrastructure by agents of state governments, vandalism, theft of telecoms equipment at sites, among others.

 

He said despite the Industry Working Group (IWG) established by the NCC and the Commission’s remarkable collaboration with state governments to reduce the cost of right of way (RoW) for telecoms operators to deploy infrastructure faster in the states, the state governors continue to turn deaf hears.

 

New Telegraph learnt that the NCC has recently intervened in a number of site closure-related cases in some states, to the benefits of all the parties involved.

 

“The lack of direct access to foreign exchange of dollars by the mobile network operators (MNOs) and other licensees in the nations telecoms sector is another big problem that needs to be resolved since telecoms companies import all their equipment which, therefore, require them to do such transaction with dollars,” said National Chairman, Association of Licensed Telephone Operators of Nigeria (ALTN), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo.

He urged government to help in resolving the issue.

Last line

To fast-track the NCC’s vision to achieve pervasive telecoms and more specifically, broadband services – in the country, stakeholders are of the view that increased collaboration is a sine qua none just as the Commission needs to get the buy-in of the state governments, which continue to see telecoms as ‘cash cow’ to boost heir internally generated revenue (IGR).

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