Nwokoro: The Smart States Initiative and Broadband Development in Nigeria

Nwokoro: The Smart States Initiative and Broadband Development in Nigeria

Nwokoro: The Smart States Initiative and Broadband Development in Nigeria

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[jumbotron heading=”Insight”]Osondu C. Nwokoro, Director, Regulatory Affairs, Airtel Nigeria, shares insights on why territories that have recognized the critical role of broadband and actively supported its development have recorded significant achievements.

Osondu C. Nwokoro
Osondu C. Nwokoro

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The world is steadily transiting to the adoption of broadband technology. The Pre-broadband era was characterised by low speed connectivity which constrained the ability to access information and is making way for high speed connectivity. In the US National Broadband Plan of 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined broadband access as “an internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access.” The Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2013 -2018 defines broadband as “an internet experience where the user can access the most demanding concept in a real time at minimum speed of 1.5Mbps.”

Broadband is however not solely about connectivity as its strategic importance is in its ability to accelerate Information Communication Technology’s (ICT) contribution to economic growth in all sectors, enhance social and cultural development, and facilitate innovation. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its publication titled “Broadband Driving Growth: Policy Responses” acknowledged broadband networks as an important platform for the development of knowledge-based global, national , regional and local economies. It further added that “Broadband is an enabler of e-business and new market opportunities, allowing firms, including Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) to realize growth through productivity increases stemming from improved information exchange, value chain transformation, and process efficiency.”

[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Osondu C. Nwokoro Director, Regulatory Affairs, Airtel Nigeria “]The Federal Government has affirmed the prime role of broadband in transforming Nigeria to a knowledge based economy in the NNBP, which sets a five-fold-increase target in the broadband penetration rate by 2015, from the current rate of 6% to 30%. Realizing the critical role of other federating governments in the actualization of this objective, the NNBP stated that “governments at various levels have a critical role to play in the drive to have pervasive Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Infrastructure across the nation.” It further added that “the support of State Governments is very important in stimulating demand for broadband as well as ensuring adequate supply of affordable broadband within the state.” Accordingly, ICT infrastructure should be treated as essential public infrastructure that must be protected by states where they are installed.[/blockquote]
According to a GSM Association (GSMA) 2011 publication on Nigeria, Wireless Broadband is expected to contribute additional N190Billion to the nation’s GDP in 2015.The GSMA also forecasts that Wireless Broadband will have a direct revenue impact of N598 billion derived from device sales and usage as well as an indirect value of N140billion to be created through productivity and efficiency gains in manufacturing, mining, industry, agricultural and services .The Federal Government has affirmed the prime role of broadband in transforming Nigeria to a knowledge based economy in the NNBP, which sets a five-fold-increase target in the broadband penetration rate by 2015, from the current rate of 6% to 30%. Realizing the critical role of other federating governments in the actualization of this objective, the NNBP stated that “governments at various levels have a critical role to play in the drive to have pervasive Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Infrastructure across the nation.” It further added that “the support of State Governments is very important in stimulating demand for broadband as well as ensuring adequate supply of affordable broadband within the state.” Accordingly, ICT infrastructure should be treated as essential public infrastructure that must be protected by states where they are installed.

The role of states in broadband development can be highlighted under three broad headings namely Infrastructure Rollout Facilitation, Operations Monitoring and Capacity Development. Under Infrastructure Rollout Facilitation, the states would grant Planning Permits prior to construction of ICT Infrastructure such as Cell Sites, Switch and Data Centers; issue right of way permit for Optic Fibre roll out and are involved in the Environment Impact Assessments executed by the environmental regulators.   In respect of Operations Monitoring, the states are expected to oversee the operations of service providers to ensure compliance with laws dealing with public safety, and environmental protection among others. States are also to contribute in the area of Capacity Development by partnering with broadband service providers in the field of business incubation, skills acquisition and enhancements.

The reality is however far from the ideal as the states tend to position the applicable legislation as rent-seeking tools against the service providers. In most cases, discriminatory rates are charged for Planning Permits, unjustifiable business and environmental related taxes are imposed and compliance is compelled through recourse to extra-judicial measures. For instance, an Infrastructure Law of a South-West State with a principal object of “monitoring the erection of masts or laying of cables in the interest of public safety” prescribes extreme administrative fees for the installation of a telecommunications mast based on its height. The said law also introduces fees to be paid for non-conformant structures. Another State in the South-South Region enacted an Ecology Law for “the management of the environment” within its territory; however, the said law also provides for the authority to determine the appropriate “ecology tariff “to be paid and pursuant to this, a single service provider has been levied N500million. As a result of the attitude of states, service providers are naturally discouraged from making necessary investments in broadband deployment. Also, in respect of Capacity Development, no action has been initiated by states to partner with service providers to train Nigerians in the ICT sphere where opportunities abound in the areas of repair and maintenance of ICT devices and infrastructure, content and application development and management. The current vocational training programs in the states do not provide for these and therefore the citizens are not being prepared to optimally harness the exciting self-employment opportunities afforded by the ICT industry. Notwithstanding this, operators are willing to partner with the states to train locals on these contemporary subjects in technical schools and tertiary institutions.

Recent developments indicate that some states are beginning to recognize ICT infrastructure as essential public infrastructure, the deployment of which must be supported. Lagos State, spearheading this new direction has signed an agreement with the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) to streamline the process for ICT infrastructure roll out: Planning Permit and Right-of-Way fees were reduced by 60%, the timeline for processing approval was reduced to 30days and a formal collaboration process between both parties on infrastructure facilitation and protection was agreed upon. In arriving at this landmark agreement, the guiding spirits were: promotion of public interest and developmental projects, institution of standards for public safety above revenue drive, viewing gains from infrastructure investment from a long term perspective, flexibility in regulation, public interest above political interest, and guaranteeing a WIN-WIN situation for other stakeholders. The arrangement with the Lagos State Government will impact positively on the broadband ecosystem in that territory and the attendant increase in ICT infrastructure investment will have a direct impact its GDP and Per Capita income.

What did Rwanda leverage to become Number 1 ICT Nation? Nwokoro explains on the next page> 

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Babatunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State
Babatunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State

Territories that have recognized the critical role of broadband and actively supported its development have recorded significant achievements. Rwanda, an East African nation with a population of 12million which is less than that of Lagos State as well as a land mass area of 26,338 KM2 that is roughly equivalent to Kano State, has recovered from ethnic strife to become a leading ICT nation in Africa. It arrived at this destination by according ICT its due recognition as a key driver to achieving socio-economic transformation. The direct impact is being felt in the area of governance as the introduction of e-government solutions has improved efficiency and promoted accountability in the public procurement process. Thus, Rwanda has been ranked as follows: No. 1 ICT nation in East Africa by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; 7th in Africa among countries with active broadband subscriptions by the UN Broadband Commission and the nation with the fastest broadband speed in Africa by NetIndex. It has also been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the few countries in Africa that can use ICT efficiently and stands a chance of attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Osondu C. Nwokoro Director, Regulatory Affairs, Airtel Nigeria “]For instance, an Infrastructure Law of a South-West State with a principal object of “monitoring the erection of masts or laying of cables in the interest of public safety” prescribes extreme administrative fees for the installation of a telecommunications mast based on its height. The said law also introduces fees to be paid for non-conformant structures. Another State in the South-South Region enacted an Ecology Law for “the management of the environment” within its territory; however, the said law also provides for the authority to determine the appropriate “ecology tariff “to be paid and pursuant to this, a single service provider has been levied N500million.[/blockquote]

Learning from experiences gained from broadband deployment around the world, the Federal Government is focused on implementing the NNBP to bring the desired benefits to its citizens. As part of the measures to drive the implementation of the NNBP among the States, the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology has introduced the Smart State Initiative (SSI) which is aimed at enrolling States to partner with the Federal Government and service providers. States that embrace the SSI stand to gain enhanced infrastructure broadband networks rollout and innovative as well as low cost ICT services. To partake in this initiative, states are expected to agree to terms such as standardized Planning Permit fees, Right of Way fees reduction or outright waiver in deserving instances, faster approval processing timelines, implementation of a Dig-Once Policy, and promotion of collocation among operators in the state. Lagos earned the “Smart State” status on merit from the agreement with ALTON. Other States like Anambra, Bayelsa, Gombe, Katina, and Ondo are at various stages of embracing this initiative.

Broadband has the potential to take Nigeria to its next level of growth, enthrone better governance and further connect Nigeria with the borderless world economy. The Federal Government should be commended for taking steps in this direction through the NNBP and the introduction of the SSI. All the states of the Federation, as key stakeholders should play their part by enrolling in the SSI so as to open up their territories for necessary investments in broadband.

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