Nigerians last week in Lagos, witnessed a renewed campaign for broadband access and penetration at the just-concluded 3rd West African Information and Communications Technology (WAFICT) Congress, as almost all papers presented were focused on new strategies for broadband.
The theme of the congress was "An Emerging New Frontier: Opportunities and Potentials for Deployment of Broadband Services for Sustainable Growth in West Africa."
The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson who was represented at the WAFICT Congress by the Director Telecoms and Post of the Ministry, Ngozi Ogunjiofor, revealed that the Federal Government was considering the development of a national ICT broadband network and another National network for Education and Research, which would require the setting up of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) for implementation.
Johnson expressed the hope that the on-going ICT Policy harmonisation would provide the necessary legal framework for the operation of the SPVs.
She called on interested stakeholders to participate in the venture.
According to her, a number of efforts had been made by both the government and the private sector to develop the broadband industry but a lot more needed to be done to link up the un-served and the underserved areas of the Federation.
"Government has over the years noted its responsibility to provide the basic infrastructure for our development and realised the constraint on the available resources and has provided the enabling legal framework for the private sector participation. Similarly, Government's readiness to partner with the private sector can be seen from the provisions of the Communications Act of 2003 and the subsequent creation of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF)", she said, adding that the fund was basically designed to assist interested stakeholders in ICT infrastructure development, to access some funds in line with the laid down regulations of the Act.
Presenting a paper on broadband penetration at the forum, Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah, explained that the Commission had already indicated its commitment to the deployment of broadband through a structured and predictable approach that will give room to cross border extension of infrastructure where practicable.
"Giving our position within the sub-region and indeed the continent, and our role as a regulator within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS) and the West African Telecommunications Regulators Assembly, (WATRA), we are desirous of partaking in initiatives or institutional frameworks that will facilitate the integration of telecommunications resources and facilities in Africa. Broadband presents one of such windows that could be exploited for the much sort after sub-regional integration. It is therefore very interesting that broadband in the sub-region is at the hearts of ICT stakeholders," he said.
Juwah added: "When we put broadband in the perspective of cross border implementation, it calls for harmonisation of policies across the states or nations involved at regional or continental levels. We need to evolve a uniform inter-regional policy framework such that when broadband is fully implemented in any of our nations, the benefits can easily spread to sister nations in the continent. A careful appraisal of the growth of broadband in developed countries can be traced to a semblance of policies accentuated by uniform level of development in terms of telecommunications and ICT infrastructure."
According to him, "Most African countries are yet to be directly interconnected, which is the reason why it costs higher to make calls across the continent than it is to make calls to and from outside the continent. We must, therefore, collectively pursue a deliberate policy of liberalization that will attract service providers to go beyond their immediate environments and also allow interconnection within and among African countries."
Managing Director of Pinet Informatics, Lanre Ajayi, in a paper presentation, said the two expressions for broadband remained broadband capacity supply and broadband capacity demand, but that they were yet to be balanced. He explained that unless there is an increase in broadband capacity demand, broadband penetration would continue to move at a slow pace and remain largely unbalanced.
He listed strategies that could stimulate broadband demand to include promotion of eGovernment processes, e-Business, Human Capacity Building and re-directing Institutional Responsibilities.
He stressed that the Nigerian broadband equation would only be balanced when the rate of broadband consumption matches the rate at which broadband infrastructure is rolled out.
"To achieve this, there is need to stimulate demand for broadband Internet in Nigeria," Ajayi said.
In his paper titled 'Providing the right backbone for broadband penetration' Head of Glo 1 Submarine Cable, Mr. Folu Aderibigbe, said "Nigeria is a key market for broadband penetration, among other African countries." He called on telecom operators to take advantage of the landing of Glo 1 submarine cable to further push broadband penetration in the country.