The birth of broadband can be traced to the plenipotentiary Conference of Minneapolis, USA in 1998 specifically to Resolution 101 of the conference which called on International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to “fully embrace the opportunities for telecommunications development that arise from the growth of IP-based services’’. IP-based applications demand high speeds and bandwidth thus highlighting the imperative for broadband infrastructure and services.
This resolution paved the way for many nations to commence the development of broadband policies that would define how the broadband infrastructure would be built and how the opportunities inherent in that infrastructure would be harnessed.
Today, broadband access is no longer viewed as a luxury but a necessity. Broadband access is crucial to every country’s socio-economic and political development and growth as it has been identified by the ITU as critically relevant to the successful realization of united Nations Millennium Development Goals.
Broadband makes it faster and more convenient to access information or conduct online transactions. The speed of broadband service is bringing about innovations that were impossible at narrow and medium band speeds. This includes new e-government services, such as electronic commerce. Mobile broadband creates true ubiquity that enables access to all these services and applications anytime and anywhere while on the move.
More than a third of the countries of the world (mostly advanced countries) have adopted a national broadband policy, plan or strategy.
In the next decade it is doubtful any nation would be able to effectively compete globally without availability of broadband infrastructure and services for its citizens and businesses. This makes broadband a priority and an imperative.
Nigeria’s path to a broadband policy took into cognizance our local realities and context.
Prior to the creation of the ministry of Communication Technology, Government institutions managing each ICT sub-sector acted independent of each other leading to duplication and sometimes triplication of functions, under separate and at times divergent/conflicting policy administrative and legal frameworks which incidentally were also under independent review and evolution.
With the phenomenon of the convergence of ICTs fully realized it was decided that the best way to commence integration was to harmonize all these separate and disparate policies, policy reviews and developments into one single ICT Policy outcome. In August 2012, just over a year after the creation of the Ministry, a draft National ICT policy was presented to and approved in principle by Federal Executive Council.
The key policy thrusts contained in the document are integrative reformation, enhancement of infrastructure growth as well as stimulation of the culture of ICT adoption and usage in both public and private sector. The policy views the ICT sector holistically and prescribes three government organs to handle each of the following functions respectively: Policy Administration, Regulation and Development.
At the onset of the ICT policy harmonization, we considered the merits and demerits of having a separate National Broadband Policy but decided against this option, noting that countries that developed National Broadband plans were those who already had current and subsisting ICT policies before the rise of Broadband as an imperative for ICTs in the last ten years. Therefore we chose instead to have our broadband policy prescriptions included in the National ICT Policy and to then later expand on those policy prescriptions in a National Broadband Plan.
The National ICT policy acknowledges that Broadband is an enabler of economic and social growth in the Nigerian economy and therefore sets broadband as the new target for universal ICT Service Provision.
There are two broadband policy objectives as follows:
-To accelerate the penetration of affordable broadband Internet in the country
-To foster Broadband usage for National development
And the strategies through which we will achieve these objectives are as follows:
-Provide periodic review of the broadband penetration targets in order to determine further action for broadband expansion.
-Promote both supply- and demand-side policies that create incentives for broadband backbone and access network deployment.
-Facilitate broadband development and deployment, leveraging on existing universal service frameworks;
-Promote special incentives to operators to encourage them to increase their investment in broadband rollout.
-Promote e-Government and other e-services that would foster broadband usages.
After the approval of the ICT Policy, His Excellency President Goodluck Jonathan set up the committee on the National Broadband Strategy and Roadmap that was charged with the responsibility to chart solid action plans and strategies for achieving ubiquitous and universal broadband infrastructure, services and usage in Nigeria for National development and benefit.
It is expected that the broadband policy and the soon to be completed broadband strategy and roadmap will expand the rhetoric and conversations about broadband to include not just building adequate broadband infrastructure but promoting the utilization of this infrastructure to deliver on the oft quoted 1.38% increase in GDP that a 10% increase in broadband penetration has proven to deliver.
The major issues for focus are:
-How do we attract sufficient investment into the deployment of ubiquitous, robust and cost effective infrastructure, what are the operational issues that must be eliminated to accelerate the roll-out of this infrastructure?
-How does broadband contribute to our national aspiration of being a top 20 economy and
How do we stimulate broadband utilization especially through the production of local content?
Investors in any sector of the economy need clarity of government actions in that sector as well as consistent, predictable and transparent regulation of the sector and the telecoms sector especially as it regards investment in broadband infrastructure is no exception. So there is a need for us to clearly derive and articulate our broadband strategy and roadmap from the broadband policy, define the expected roles of national, sub-national government and the private sector and have overarching regulations around all of this.
The provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 had anticipated the need for open access and infrastructure sharing in the wholesale transmission market and consequently the following provision prescribes open access for the country (sections 137(infrastructure sharing),101 network access)96-100(interconnection).
Therefore within the context of existing regulations, the Broadband strategy and roadmap committee is developing strategies that will include options of policy and regulatory intervention to ensure interconnection of national transmission markets that rely on government provided rights of way and open access compliance. This is to ensure that Nigeria enjoys at integrated national broadband transmission network instead of the fragmented, duplicated, resource hoarding networks we have today. In essence a more coordinated network build out between the private and public sectors.
Furthermore, work has to be done to remove the obstacles and constraints that state governments put in the way of the deployment of this infrastructure. In some states, providers of broadband infrastructure have to contend with as many as 7 state MDAs, and local government to procure permits and permissions to erect base stations or lay fibre optic cable. The importance of right of way for fibre optic deployment cannot be overemphasized. Broadband is about speed and bandwidth size and optic fibres delivers effectively. Fibre is important for both wired and wireless broadband, wired fibre to the cabinet or home/offices and for wireless fibre to the Base stations. In Nigeria today, right of way procurement contributes at least 50% of the cost of fibre build-one of the highest in the world today, ditto maintenance of infrastructure ones it is deployed as a result of vandalisation, power problems and wanton theft.(500m to build a 100km metro fibre ring in a state capital).No right thinking infrastructure provider will invest in the deployment of infrastructure if this situation prevails and we will continue to have tremendous underutilized capacity of international bandwidth. I am happy to say that significant progress is being made in this area.(Federal right of way, discussions with state governors)
Network service providers are an important part of our supply side equation for broadband, They are the equivalent of the entrepreneur in classical economic theory of production, they constitute the resource that drives other resources. Without them other resources are not useful, therefore they are the most important resource from a policy perspective in a liberalized environment.
As more service providers enter into a developing market, competition increases and more infrastructure and network access is created which is critical for increased tele-density and universal broadband service/access in the country. It is important therefore for the regulator to continue to facilitate market entry and support sustainable existent of all market entrants in the different segments of the market.
Availability of spectrum is of course an important part of delivering wireless broadband. We are actively pursuing the conversion from analogue to digital which we hope to complete by 2015 in order to free up critical spectrum resource within the 460-790 MHz frequency band. The National frequency Management council is working on ensuring that sufficient spectrum will be made available for wireless broadband including LTE and a full spectrum audit will shortly be commenced as input into the development of the best strategy for using this digital dividend for wireless broadband.
The main driver of the knowledge based economy that we aspire to build is the whole process of knowledge creations and generation, incubation, communication and application. This whole process is heavily dependent on information and communication Technology. Therefore accessibility to and availability of ubiquitous connectivity links at affordable prices to all segments of the economy is of prime importance. This will enable all participants of the economic value chain to be networked in order to collaborate, share and distribute knowledge thereby promoting efficiencies of productive and commercial processes. Affordable and ubiquitous connectivity links also enhance human capacity development and new economic opportunities. This is why broadband connectivity for accelerated communication is now a sine qua non for any country that wants to remain globally competitive.
Excerpt from a Keynote address delivered by Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson at a broadband Summit in Nigeria.