New Telegraph

Sustaining rebounds of broadband penetration rate

The hope of the industry stakeholders, which seemed to have been dashed over the achievement of 90 per cent broadband penetration in 2025, has once again been rekindled following the new increase recently recorded in the penetration rate, Abolaji Adebayo reports

On November 28, 2019, the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030 was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari. This was followed by the launch, in March, 2020, of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020-2025, among several other digital economy policies, one of which is the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector (NPPIC). In 2020, the Federal Government, together with other stakeholders in telecoms sector, set a target in the broadband penetration to be achieved in the country by 2025. In its “Nigerian National Broadband Plan: 2020-2025,” government had disclosed that it intended to increase coverage by 90 per cent by 2025.

Objective

The goal was to achieve economic growth through technology, believing that expanding the technology to the rural areas and every nooks and crannies of the country would open up hidden economy. Also, it is believed that the penetration, economically very challenging though, is an interesting asset to attract foreign direct investment to the telecommunication industry, drive digital economy and consequently expand the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Meanwhile, there has been fluctuation in the penetration rate since the target was set in 2020, as the sector witnessed declines in the rate. For instance, NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, noted that the reasons for the fluctuation were quite obvious and that informed the strategic initiatives of the Commission to deepen the penetration of fixed broadband infrastructure, which will guarantee very steady broadband services and provide higher capacity.

Decline

At the launch of NNBP in 2020, the broadband penetration, which was largely driven by mobile technology, was slightly below 40 per cent. By December 2020, penetration of 45.93 per cent had been attained. However, rather than rise, the broadband penetration fell year-onyear from 80.28 million (equivalent to 42.06 per cent) in February 2021 to 78.08 million (40.91 per cent) in February 2022. It was 45.93 per cent in October 2021, but declined to 42.93 per cent in January 2021. Report from NCC as of December 2021 clearly indicates varying degrees of declines in voice subscriptions, teledensity, Internet usage and broadband penetration, a development principally traceable to the effect of the directive from NCC in December 2020 to all GSM operators to suspend the sale and registration of new Subscriber Identity Module (SIMs), SIM swaps and all porting activities. The decline was felt in the revenue generation of the telecom companies, affecting the contribution of the sector to the gross domestic product (GDP). Though the sector is still rated a large contributor to the GDP, NCC noted that it would have contributed more than what it has been doing.

Causes

There were so many factors identified to have contributed to the declines witnessed in the broadband penetration. One of the reasons for the decline in the broadband penetration was the SIM-NIN policy introduced by the Federal Government. Before the policy, which led to a SIM sale ban in December 2020, broadband penetration had been heading north. The objective of the exercise, according to the Federal Government, is to enhance the security of the country. It was gathered that the intervention of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy also affected the sector. Other factors were inadequate telecoms infrastructure, and persistent vandalisation of the few infrastructure, especially in the rural areas, which made NCC to launch a grassroots campaign against telecoms infrastructure vandalism as reported by New Telegraph. The outbreak of COVID-19, as well as the #EndSARS crisis that rocked the nation and paralised economic activities, were also identified as some of the factors that led to the decline in the broadband penetration. There were inconsistencies in government policies, which were also said to have contributed to the fluctuation witnessed in broadband penetration. The decline recorded in broadband penetration made some industry watchers jittery and doubt the ability of the country to attain its in 2025.

Rebound

Regardless of all the declines and fluctuations witnessed in the broadband penetration so far, NCC has been able to reverse the trend. Nigeria’s broadband penetration has rebounded to growth trajectory recently based on the regulatory focus of NCC and its commitment to driving various initiatives aimed at deepening broadband penetration. In its recent data, the Commission stated that the penetration has now increased to 42.79 per cent. Recently, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, told the global digital community that Nigeria had been witnessing phenomenal growth in its telecoms sector, thus enabling socioeconomic development in Nigeria and across the African continent. Pantami explained this at a tea break hosted by Nigeria on the sideline of the 2022 International Telecommunication Union’s World Telecommunications Development Conference (ITU-WTDC) in Kigali, Rwanda. The Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Ubale Maska, who spoke on behalf of the minister said that Nigeria had continued to record impressive growth in its ICT sector and acknowledged the support of the ITU in Nigeria’s strides in the sector. Maska noted that many achievements of Nigeria in ICT development were facilitated by successful launch and implementation of policies that fostered use of ICTs across all sectors to enhance a digital economy. Again, statistics with respect to voice subscriptions, teledensity and Internet usage also indicated that broadband penetration has rebounded and returned to growth trajectory. According to the industry statistics published by the Commission, as of April 2022, active mobile subscriptions have increased to 201.7 million; teledensity rose to 105.65 per cent and Internet subscriptions have risen to 148.1 million. It indicated that broadband penetration has reached 81.7 million subscriptions, corresponding to 42.79 per cent as at first quarter of 2022. Also, the industry’s percentage contribution to GDP has hit 12.94 per cent as at the first quarter of 2022.

NCC’s efforts

Part of the efforts of the Commission towards reviving the declining broadband penetration was the launch of a grassroots campaign against vandalism of telecoms infrastructure. The campaign, launched in Abeokuta, Ogun State, was tagged “Village Square Dialogue.” The Executive Commissioner (Stakeholder Management), NCC, Adeleke Adewolu, tasked consumers at the grassroots to protect the telecoms infrastructure, saying it is to their advantage.

Speaking on the theme of the programme: “Protection of Telecoms Infrastructure for Improved Quality of Service: The Role of Residents,” Adewolu reiterated that it was the responsibility of residents to protect the telecoms infrastructure for their own benefit. He said that the agency launched the sensitisation programme to involve the people at the grassroots in the protection of the infrastructure, being the custodians of the equipment, urging them to report any act of vandalism or attempted theft to the appropriate bodies. Apart from this, NCC has taken leading role in developing various initiatives aimed at implementing the NDEPS and NNBP towards accelerating the broadband penetration in the country. Part of the Commission’s efforts is working towards the deployment of 5G spectrum, which was auctioned on December 13, 2021, coupled with its partnership with infrastructure companies (Infraco) for the deployment of the needed infrastructure for the realisation of the 5G network in Nigeria, which is also targeted at increased broadband penetration.

The recent appointment of NCC’s EVC, Danbatta, as a member of the 27-member Presidential Council on Digital Economy & e-Government (PCDEeG) is also said to be a good attempt to boost the telecoms sector, implementing the various digital economy policies of the Federal Government. To justify his key role in the entire spectrum of digital economy drive in the country, the implementation offices for NNBP and NDESP are placed under Danbatta’s watch, while many regulatory initiatives are being emplaced by the Danbatta-led NCC to implement the NDEPS and related digital economy policies.

The Executive Commissioner, Technical Services at NCC, Ubale Maska, chairs the Broadband Implementation Steering Committee, (BISC), while the Nigeria Office for Developing the Indigenous Telecoms Sector (NODITS), saddled with the responsibility of implementing the NPPIC, is also domiciled within the Commission. NCC has put in place the Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024 and the Strategic Vision Implementation Plan (SViP) 2020-2025, two blueprints to ensure the implementation of the digital economy policies whose implementation is being pushed by the ninister. All these were said to have helped in reviving the declining broadband penetration and gradually expanding it.

Last line

Through effective regulatory regime emplaced by NCC, the country has rebounded in its broadband growth, as broadband penetration as of April, 2020 stood at 42.79 per cent. It is expected that greater penetration will be recorded as NCC, supported by stakeholders, continues with diligent execution of the digital economy policies, identify the challenges and solve them promptly, while sustaining efforts.

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