“Pathway to Connecting the Last Man”

titi-omoBeing excerpt of the Lecture delivered by Engr.Titi Omo-Ettu, FNSE (President ATCON) at the 11th Distinguished Electrical and Electronics Engineers Annual Lecture (DEEEAL), Dec.16, 2010 at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Lagos,Nigeria

Nigerians have spoken

The transformation of the mindset of the Nigerian from a position of the telephone not being priority on the agenda of the common man to the position of desiring access to broadband Internet as a fundamental right is indeed significant.

This transformation which bridges both positions is a clear indication of a massive development in our national and collective consciousness and it should not only be commended but supported. It signifies that Information and Communication Technology, ICT, has now become the agenda of the mainstream and  that Suleiman – as the last man – must have access not only to telephone, but to Broadband Internet as a right.

Past and on-going efforts

The Nigerian Communications Commission launched two efforts which, regrettably, we can say have not achieved their main objectives. Wire Nigeria (WiN) Initiative was announced in 2004 and influenced the Commission to issue licenses (10 to date each with 20 years tenure) all of which have not provided the required trans-Nigeria access to broadband Internet. These licenses were in addition to those held by the two National Operators, NITEL and GLOBACOM. They include Long Distance Communication licenses to Nepskom Nigeria Ltd; MTS Nigeria Ltd; Suburban Telecoms; Backbone Connectivity Networks; Traffic Network Services; Phase3 Telecom; Fibre Tech West Africa; Alheri Engineering Ltd.; Gateway Integrated Services and Steam Broadcasting and Communications Ltd.

NCC also launched the States Accelerated Broadband Initiative, SABi whose understanding to date remains sketchy to me and, dare I say it, perhaps even to the executors.

Under the above programs, its creators intended to provide and extend broadband Internet access to at least all local government headquarters across the country.

While we cannot say those programmes have failed outright, they are, at best, work in progress and therefore, we need to proceed on the basis that they need further refurbishment as well as new radical initiatives.

We can do it

Ordinarily it may sound strange to imagine an attempt to put the telephone in the hands of the last man. But I view this perception as a lack of imagination because to do so is to discount the fact that existing technology has made this feat within the realms of possibility.  We are not talking of priding 160million SIM cards for 160million people. That would be simplistic as one does not necessarily equate the other. For our purposes, we mean each of the 160 million people having a serviceable telephone individually and officially registered to them. We have to do some projection here and be pragmatic in doing so.

It is my expressed desire that this proliferation of telephony happens in my life time. But we need action and planning to change what is an aspiration into reality.  It is, therefore, imperative that we are able to make projections using industry experience, research results and other demographic factors to make an educated guess as to how many will opt to use our product or services and how much our industry will grow in a given time frame. Such comprehensive projection will, undoubtedly, attract investors and serve as a guide to future business decisions.

So that we can say with some logical estimation that by year 2040 with population growth at 3.5% per annum, we realistically can expect 452,311,182  inhabitants of Nigeria to each have a telephone whose identification will be coded in the user’s personal identity.

titi omo

A New York shop in 1974

What prevents us from establishing 200 TV stations by private initiatives and investments all broadcasting different themes and accessible from all the six geopolitical zones of the country in the next 5 years?

What prevents us from equipping every secondary school with functional broadband Internet access libraries in the next five years?

What prevents us from having 37 IT Parks where Nigerian graduates post NYSC will be availed facilities that will make them train, develop and produce at postgraduate level?

A nation that aspires to be one of the greatest 20 best economies in 10 years time cannot afford not to address the following issues very urgently:

  • Develop the will to do it.
  • Unify our three industries of telecom, broadcasting and computer into a truly unified ICT industry with genuine attention to its details.

It is all about ubiquitous broadband Internet access

To promote the need for broadband network is to demonstrate that services such as video-on-demand, video telephony and IPTV, advanced answering services are, indeed, part of our everyday requirement. Give Suleiman broadband Internet access and you will be amazed what he can do with it.

Broadband: availability or penetration?

The provision and access to public of goods and services – the healthcare, education communication, commerce, research and entertainment now and in the future, will be very much dependent on universal broadband penetration.

In this era, health care will mean people can invite health personnel and be treated in their homes, educational institutions will require high quality network and broadband services for e-learning and Abuja will be as close to Zaria as it is to  Abeokuta. To genuinely be able to include Nigeria in the global village, the last man – wherever he resides, must have Internet access which is only socio-economically viable via broadband. To achieve our aspirations for the last man, broadband penetration, not just availability, is imperative at the places where the last man is and where Internet must be assessed and therefore, where broadband must exist. We are, therefore, talking of penetration and not just availability,

Of course, we are not oblivious to cost but those who have been involved in the political and socio-economics of telecommunication penetration have since found out that to think of it in its totality is often better than the hitherto ‘reasonable’ method of gradual planning. It is important to distinguish between gradual planning and implementation of total planning in phases.

We are saying, therefore, that our plans will serve our cause better if we work from the fundamental principle that our system will serve all and not some of us.

Titi Omo-Ettu
Titi Omo-Ettu has more than three decades of active participation in the Nigerian telecommunication development. He is a telecommunications consultant and trainer with focus on developmental processes. He has been Consultant to the Nigerian Communications Commission from its inception in 1993 to date serving the Commission in the areas of industry studies and research, universal service plans and internet applications. He offers similar services to private sector clients. He is Managing Partner of Telecom Answers Associates, and founder of The Cyberschuul, a Lagos based telecommunications training Institute. Mr. Omo-Ettu is Fellow, Nigerian Society of Engineers; Fellow Telecom Executive Management Institute, Canada; Member, Association of Consulting Engineers, Nigeria; and Member, Nigerian Institute of Management. He is a Council Member and vice-President of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigerian, COREN, He lives in Lagos.Contact Titi through his email:titi@cyberschuulnews.com website:www.cyberschuulnews.com

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