March 4, 2020

BROADBAND: Pre-empting Opeke’s report, as telcos suffer fibre cuts

By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor

The National Broadband Plan Committee recently constituted to draw a robust plan for broadband Nigeria, has just submitted its report to the Minister  of Communications and Digital Economy.

Part of the brief of the Committee, headed by Nigeria’s tech Amazon and Chief Executive of MainOne, Funke Opeke, is to set new targets for broadband penetration after the 2013-2018 target of 30 percent was achieved and surpassed

Although details of the report submitted by Opeke and her team are still to be made public, it is common knowledge the Country was rooting for at least 70 percent target, to ensure Nigeria attains the kind of internet ubiquity that has transformed developed economies.

However, there are very teething issues that may not allow whatever is contained in the report function smoothly.

They include the issues of fibre cuts  by incessant road constructions and repairs, exorbitant and un-harmonised Right of Way, RoW charges at all levels of government.

Others include rampant telecom facility destruction, vandalisation and theft.

Airtel Nigeria last week cried out that its network has recorded up to 1,022 fibre cuts in less than six months with its attendant low quality of service effects on its operations

Yet, the Right of Way, RoW price to lay these fibre cables are yet to be harmonised between the Federal, states and local governments

Right of Way is the permission given to the operators by either the Federal, State or local government councils, to open the roads and lay fibre cables that carry internet traffic.

In 2013, National Economic Council, NEC set up a Committee comprising State Governors and Ministers to review the issues of multiple taxation in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria and its impact. The Committee, after extensive and wide-ranging consultations, resolved to harmonise the taxes applicable to broadband-related activities and streamlined the taxation management processes across the Federation.

READ ALSO: Kaduna killings, one too many — ACF

Specifically, to deepen broadband penetration for the social and economic development of the Country, the Committee agreed to the uniform Right of Way ,RoW, charge of N145.00 per linear meter of fibre.

However, majority of the states have refuse to abide by that harmonisation but rather hike the prices as far as N6000 per linear metre of fibre. This has frustrated the operators who appeared to have abandoned investments, especially, in terrestrial fibre cable deployments. This has also resulted in Nigeria being one of the countries with lowest last mile broadband deployments in the world.

Although the federal government, FG recently warned state governors against arbitrary increment of Right of Way, RoW charges, the problem is yet to abate.

Interestingly, Opeke is not a stranger to these problems as an operator. A wild guess into her report will most likely see recommendations that will resolve these bottlenecks.

She most probably would advise that the federal government listens to the cry of the operators, especially the repeated call by the Association of Licensed Telecom operators in Nigeria, ALTON that telecommunications should urgently be declared Critical National Infrastructure which puts anybody vandalising it at risk of long jail term.

Opeke may probably recommend that the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC steps up efforts to make broadband a major regulatory priority.

However, in different for a the NCC, has flaunted several initiatives it came up with to deepen broadband penetration across the country.

Some of these initiatives include the licensing of Infrastructure companies, InfraCos. The InfraCos help in building the metro fibre infrastructure that will help in taking the about 40 terabite of bandwidth capacity lying in the shores of Nigeria to the hinterlands across the country.

This will help to deepen intra and inter-city fibre connectivity that will help businesses, public institutions and individuals to have digital access to various services across industry verticals.

The Commission is seeking approval from the FG for counterparts funding to be disbursed to InfraCos depending on achievements of key milestones in their deployment within their respective areas of operations.

The commission said it has also shown readiness to do more by facilitating the deployment of 5G networks in the country. Already, Proof of Concept (PoC) trial has been conducted by MTN through the platform created by the Commission to test speed, latency and capacity which  5G offers ahead of other generational technology platforms such as 2G, 3G and nascent 4G.

The commission also noted that the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) unveiled by President Munamadu Buhari recently was part of its prospects to steer the country’s broadband blueprint towards deepening digital economy.

It promised that other prospects that will help it drive the new target whenever it is determined   and made known by the FG, would be after reviewing the Opeke-led National Broadband Plan Committee 2020-2024