DETERMINED to use ICT as a driver of its core developmental agenda for achieving the goal of making Nigeria one of the top 20 economies by 2021, the government has announced a strategic initiative that will steer broadband penetration into the rural communities in the next five years (2013-2018). This is contained in the National Broadband Plan by the Presidential Committee on Strategy and Roadmap for Broadband, which has already been presented to the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The key objectives of the Plan are to promote pervasive broadband deployment; increase broadband adoption and usage; and ensure availability of broadband services at affordable prices. All these are aimed at maximising the political and socioeconomic benefits of broadband, according to the document.
Minister of Communications Technology Omobola Johnson said that the five-year plan would assist the private sector in widening broadband penetration. “But then the private sector must also deliver not just on basic reach and penetration, but also on quality of service. It is not only in doing this that all Nigerians will truly feel the positive impact of the benefits of broadband,” Johnson said.
Dr. Eugene Juwah, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), gave insights into how the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) will be used to drive this initiative while speaking at the Ministry of Communications’ ICT Stakeholders Forum with the theme: Connected for Growth – Moving from Planning to Execution in Lagos last month.
He said that the mandate of the USPF was to create a fund that would drive the spread of ICT infrastructure to remote and under served locations in the country. He said that the fund was principally to promote widespread availability and usage of network services, web hosting and application services throughout Nigeria, especially in areas that would have otherwise been unprofitable for operators in the industry to provide services.
To meet this mandate, Juwah stressed that the NCC had set aside a significant annual fiscal appropriation of the Fund to meet its stated objective. To buttress the work of the Fund in the area of its core mandate since inception in 2006, he said that the USPF had facilitated the deployment of over 100 Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) and co-location towers to extend voice and Internet/Data coverage to remote, un-served and under served communities in different parts of Nigeria.
With this initiative, he said that voice, internet/data services had been extended to over 200 communities, which, without the USPF intervention, would have to wait for many years before such facilities and services reached the people. The NCC boss stated as well that the fund was also key in the establishment of some 200 Community Communications Centers to provide access to ICT facilities on shared basis to several locations in Nigeria.
According to the NCC boss, the intervention of the USPF in providing an ICT facility has ensured that the policy of governance by inclusiveness was being practiced in Nigeria. He said that the people who would be excluded from governance are now having access to their representatives via the ICT connectivity via connected communities. He said that the ICT facility had improved the level of awareness generation in the affected communities thereby making them a part of the information society.
He also revealed that in order to provide ICT and broadband access to other communities in the country, the USPF was working in concert with some network operators in order to extend about 1, 500 kilometers of fibre to different locations across the country. And as a part of its strategic retooling, the board of the USPF recently approved a new five-year strategic plan for the Fund. Infrastructure build-out and broadband penetration are at the heart of the new plan. The whole plan has been hinged on the delineation of the entire under served/un-served communities/locations in Nigeria into clusters. Participating firms will then be allowed to bid for the provision of broadband and other integrated ICT services.
According to the layout of the implementation strategy, during the bid for the clusters firms that propose green power will be favored in the award of subsidies. Explaining the rationale for this, the NCC said that companies with the green power proposal would be working within the realm of the global concern for the environment. Besides, the NCC stressed that the use of the conventional power system would make the deployment in the rural areas very uneconomical. It is the assumption that using the traditional power system could make operational cost to outstrip the revenues that might be generated from the assigned areas.
The catch is that the low operational cost of the green power such as solar or wind power is more economical and lucrative in the less commercially oriented areas of the country, like the rural communities.