Few days ago I was at the stakeholders’ roundtable organized by the Universal Service Provision Fund( USPF)-a special Fund by Nigerian government designed to provide telecommunications and ICT services to unserved, underserved and deprived groups and communities in the country.
Representatives of telecommunication firms operating in Nigeria were present for this focused Industry Roundtable on the theme Partnering to Deliver Sustainable Universal Access and Service.
It was also attended by members of the Board of USPF as well as Consultants from KPMG and Management staff of the USPF Secretariat.
The Chairman of USPF and Minister of Communications Technology Nigeria, Mrs. Omobola Johnson who was represented by Engr John Ayodele, Director of Posts and Telecommunications and Member of USPF Board, said in an opening address that this was one of the new initiatives introduced by the USPF to ensure that the opinions of stakeholders, especially Network Operators, are considered in the delivery of the Fund’s mandate.
She revealed that the Fund consulted widely and used the services of competent Consultants to develop a new Strategic Management Plan 2013 – 2017.
This is the first item in Annual Operations Plan (AOP) and the outcome of these discussions would go a long way to shape the provision of universal access to information and communication technology in Nigeria.
The Minister pleaded for stakeholders input and pledged to take all contribution as most important
An overview of USPF’s operations and performance of the Strategic Management Plan 2007 – 2011 was presented by Mr. Joseph Tegbe, Partner, KPMG while Mr. Abdullahi Maikano, Secretary of USPF, presented the New Strategic Management Plan 2013 – 2017.
Thrust of the last 5 Years Strategic Management Plan (2007 – 2011)and its objectives were:
i. To provide an understanding of the USPF’s approach to implementing universal access and service programs/ projects, and
ii. To obtain the participation of relevant stakeholders and operators in the industry
Its focus Areas were CONNECTIVITY and ACCESS.
Some Projects conceived and executed for CONNECTIVITY objectives were
i. Backbone Transmission Infrastructure (BTRAIN),
ii. Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion (AMPE), and
iii. Rural Broadband Initiative (RUBI)
while Projects conceived and executed for ACCESS objectives were
i. School Access Project
ii. Tertiary Institution Project, and
iii. E-Library, and
iv. Community Communication Centres (CCC)
The Connectivity and Access projects were designed to complement each other with Connectivity focusing on provision of subsidy, assuring low entry level in rural areas and increasing availability of services. Access on the other hand provided grants, created demand, and ultimately motivated the need for viable and sustainable projects.
Upon expiry of SMP 2007 -2011, KPMG and UNILAG Consult were hired to review the overall STRATEGY and EXECUTION of Projects.
It was found that the USPF had a good strategy but execution faced some challenges. Some of these challenges include:
i. The problems of projects that were designed uniformly across all target communities so some projects did not fit certain communities
ii. Bidders were required to select target communities from identified geo-political zones and this resulted in cherry picking of communities
iii. Grants were awarded for the implementation of access projects and operational cost of these projects borne by the USPF and the challenge was sustainability
iv. Subsidy was based on Capital Project expenditure, CAPEX, only.
Challenges in Perfoemance:
Results did not quite show optimum performance in many projects. Specifically
i. Backbone Transmission Infrastructure (BTRAIN) had a target of 1000KM,
ii. Rural Broadband Initiative (RUBI) had a target of 183 sites, 118 was awarded but 12 were executed,
iii. Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion (AMPE) had a target of 403 but only 59 were executed,
iv. CIP BTS had a target of 203 but achieved 5.
v. School Access Project (SAP) had a target of 1858 but achieved 766,
vi. Tertiary Institution Access Project (TiaP) had a target of 374 but achieved 193,
vii. E-library had a target of 74 and hundred per cent performance was achieved while
viii. CCC BTS had a target of 364 with 224 completed
Major Barriers to Effective Execution
i. Inadequate information about characteristics of target areas/ communities
ii. Projects were designed and implemented using one approach when in reality; a situation in south west might be different to that in the north.
iii. The scale of project implemented was inadequate to effectively engage the industry operators
iv. Some of the projects were designed and implemented as stand-alone projects and these increased the cost of deployments.
v. Subsidies were given only in relations to capital expenditure incurred on infrastructure thereby diminishing the incentive for the industry operators
Summary of the the New Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2013 – 2017
Mr. Abdullahi Maikano, Secretary of USPF presented The new Operational Model.
He revealed that the USPF Board ordered for an Impact Assessment conducted by UNILAG Consult and an independent review by KPMG, after which a Strategic Management Plan for 2013 to 2017 was approved.
He invited operators to warm up to USPF henceforth as Partners with whom the FUND would deliver its mandate and review its performance every year.
He advised that there is now a department in charge of monitoring and evaluation in USPF that does a critique of USPF operations and at the end of the year, USPF engages external Consultants to do a critique of its overall performance.
The Guiding Principles of the SMP 2013- 2017 are:
i. To promote infrastructure sharing
ii. To be all inclusive
iii. To be private sector profit motive driven
iv. To encourage competition
v. To protect the consumer
vi. To ensure projects are sustainable
vii. To make the USPF accountable
viii. To adopt neutrality in technology deployment.
The current SMP will retain the two broad programs, namely: CONNECTIVITY and ACCESS.
Access Programs will include: School Access Program, Computer Communication Centre, E-health Projects, E-Accessibility Project
Connectivity Programs are University Inter-Connectivity (UNICC), Backbone Transmission Infrastructure
Specific Goals and Targets are for USPF in the SMP are as follows:
i. BTS Projects with a target of 1000 BTS every year for an operational year of June 2013 to July 2014
ii. Rural Broadband Internet (RUBI) which will provide internet PoPs in target communities for last mile access using a range of technologies like WiFi, Wimax etc.
iii. Support the deployment of 3000km of fibre every year
iv. Deployment of internet POPs in 5 clusters annually
TiAP has been redesigned, instead of providing computers for universities, connectivity will be provided. This connectivity must be accessible seamlessly. So UNICC is connecting all Federal and State Universities, teaching hospitals and research organizations across the nation. This will help the optimization of bandwidth. There is an agreement with NUC and the NgREN.
The focus of this SMP is sustainability. USPF must be able to exit the project without causing the demise of the business. Therefore, those who must implement must be firms who do the project as their mainstream business.
Projects implementation must be integrated and resources can be shared among different projects in the same area to save costs, improve sustainability and assure integration of the projects.
UPSF will do quarterly and annual monitoring of projects.
Service Delivery Model
i. Creating Cluster of Target Areas in the six geo political areas. These clusters will come with GPS co-ordinates, locations etc.
ii. There will be a minimum of 5 clusters per zone.
iii. Clusters will be bided by operators on a competitive basic. Therefore bids will be received only from operators in the industry
iv. Subsidy will be on CAPEX and OPEX. Since operators have the money to deploy but deployment might not be profitable. There will be a mix of financial and non-financial subsidies for operational cost for connectivity projects
v. Bidding process will be simplified, USPF will streamline the internal RFP process to improve efficiency and the scoring model for the RFP will be made public so the bidders can score themselves before submitting their proposals. Pass score will be 70%
vi. Bidding process will be transparent
vii. This model is hoped to improve the participation of industry operators, lead to implementation of adaptable projects which suits every ICT needs, provide telecom infrastructure for underserved and unserved areas and provide a holistic approach to implement affordable and sustainable access projects in the underserved and unserved areas.
Participants at the roundtable after applauding the plan didn’t fail to express their concern on how the plan will be implemented to remove the bottlenecks, bureaucracy and corruption that are major characteristics of government Plans in Nigeria.