This March makes it three years that Nigeria has unveiled and kickstarted the implementation of its second National Broadband Plan (NBP 2020-2025). A look at the targets shows that little has been achieved, even while the plan is now halfway to its expiration. SAMSON AKINTARO reports
With the unveiling of the National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2020, the country began another audacious journey to broadband sufficiency, with a view to growing the economy. While the country had earlier successfully implemented its first National Broadband Plan (NBP 2013—2018) and achieved its target of 30 per cent penetration by December 2018, the second plan was set on a higher pedestal with several other targets hung around the overarching aim of achieving 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025. Three years into the implementation, the country cannot be said to have made headways in terms of its targets. Many issues detailed to be addressed in the plan to pave the way for accelerated rollout of broadband infrastructure remained unresolved. The issue of Right of Way harmonisation, for instance, was to pave the way for a uniform charge for the permit across the country. However, only seven out of the 36 states have so far complied with the policy. Other issues such as multiple taxations and the high cost of smartphones were to be addressed to remove barriers to broadband access, but they are still pending.
In the new National Broadband Plan, there are many targets, the principal of which is to cover 90 per cent of the Nigerian population with broadband access and 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025. Government, in the new plan, also raised the benchmark speed for broadband service in Nigeria to 25 megapixels per second, which is an improvement from the 1.5mbps benchmark in the 2013-2018 plan. According to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, “this new broadband plan is designed to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria, a minimum of 25Mbps in urban areas and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90 per cent of the population by 2025.” This means that broadband users in a city like Lagos would be able to download one gigabyte video in under one minute, while people in the rural areas would be able to download the same in 160 seconds.
Conditions to achieve targets
According to the NBP drafting committee led by the Chief Executive Officer of MainOne, Ms. Funke Opeke, one of the main barriers to broadband access in Nigeria is the issue of cost. Therefore, it was mandated in the plan that government must drive down the cost of broadband access significantly.
Through the implementation of the plan, government is to ensure that one gigabyte of data is sold for not more than N390 from the current average cost of N1000. According to the report of the NBP committee, broadband affordability in Nigeria had significantly improved with aggressive competition for increasing internet services revenue among the major operators. “These developments have resulted in the achievement, in 2019, of pricing at approximately N1,000 ($2.78) for 1GB of data or 1.78 per cent of average GDP/ Capita in line with the global benchmark for affordability set by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and the UN Broadband Commission “1 for 2” target for the availability of 1GB of data at no more than two per cent of average monthly income,” the committee stated in the report. It, however, noted that the challenge with this affordability benchmark in Nigeria’s context is “given high-income disparities, the median monthly income of N19,460 ($54) is much lower than average income levels of N60,000 ($167) per month. Thus, internet bundles at these price points remain largely unaffordable for the majority of Nigeri-ans.”
Cost of phone
The broadband committee also identified the high cost of smartphones as one of the factors hindering Nigerians from accessing broadband service. The team, therefore, recommended that government put in place incentives such as tax holidays and duty waivers to encourage Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to set up assembly plants in the country. In the plan, the committee noted that entry-level smartphones in the country currently sell for about N18,000. While it suggested that the price may remain the same by 2023, it is expected that by that year, the country must have had one local smartphone assembly plant. Through government incentives, the country is expected to have had three smartphone assembly plants by 2025, while the price of smartphones is expected to have come down to N9,000. The committee also advised government to begin the development of implementation framework standards with potential OEMs in 2020, while licensing of OEMs based on “agreed framework and incentivised local manufacturing with a focus on budget 3G/4G smartphones” was expected to commence in 2021. This process is expected to birth a local assembly plant in the country by 2023. “Some of the factors identified as barriers to the low usage rate and adoption of broadband services include the high cost of services and access devices, low digital literacy, lack of local and relevant content, and poor perception of broadband value, amongst others. Effective utilisation of broadband services requires the use of capable devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, etc. The cost of these devices is typically higher than what a large segment of the population can afford. “In view of the above, government needs to take steps to fasttrack the adoption of broadband services and access devices by incentivising local assembly of Smartphones with pioneer status and other waivers of duties, taxes and levies – with a target of getting smartphones to Nigerians at below $25 by year 2025. Adequate digital literacy programmes should be embarked upon to enlighten every Nigerian on the relevance of broadband to their lives and day-to-day activities,” the committee said in the broadband plan.
Level of implementation
While the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has since completed the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) as part of the NBP implementation, the seven companies licensed, six for the geographical zones and one for Lagos, are still being hampered by the Right of Way issue. Many of them have been unable to roll out infrastructure as the challenge persists. In the area of smartphones and PCs affordability, there has not been any policy action to drive down costs, even as a local assemblage of phones remains a mirage to date. With the high cost of RoW and multiple taxations, achieving a reduction in the cost of data remains improbable.
While three years of NBP’s implementation have gone without any tangible action, it is hoped that government will wake up to its duties and treat the plan with the utmost seriousness it deserves. The potential impact of broadband on the Nigerian economy, which government has also attested to several times, is too huge to be neglected.