New Telegraph

Telecoms: How NCC expands broadband penetration

In this analysis, Abolaji Adebayo writes on the efforts of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on the broadband penetration expansion to meet 70 per cent target

Latest statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission’s (NCC) official website put broadband penetration currently at 46 per cent, with 24 per cent penetration journey remaining till 2025 when the country plans to have attained its targeted broadband penetration of 70 per cent, as stated in the Nigerian National Broadband Penetration 2020-2025. Industry analysts believe that the target is attainable if the NCC continues with its doggedness and does not desist from its effort being put in the expansion of the broadband hitherto. Since he took the mantle of leadership of the Commission, the Executive Vice Chairman of (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, has been applauded for his transformational leadership style, which has been adjudged by the industry players as the best to reposition the sector. According to them, Danbatta’s effort has been described as one of the central factors propelling the accelerated growth in the Nigeria’s broadband penetration.

The journey

When he assumed office in August 2015, the broadband penetration was barely around 8 per cent. However, the Commission under the leadership of Danbatta, deviced new strategies toward expanding the broadband. His new regulatory approach working with his team brought forth the development of the first Strategic Vision Plan 2015-2020, which has helped to accelerate the attainment and surpassing of the 30 per cent broadband penetration target in the initial NNBP 2013-2018. Since then, the Commission has continued to churn out different regulatory frameworks, guidelines and regulations which have all helped in fast-tracking the implementation of various digital economy policies, especially the National Digital Economy Policy & Strategy (NDEPS) 2020-2030, among others as well as helping to significantly improve the contribution of the telecoms sector to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to the tune of 15 per cent as at the third quarter of 2022. Following the trend of growth in the sector, the hope of the industry stakeholders, which seemed to have been dashed over the achievement of 90 per cent broadband penetration in 2025, has been rekindled. 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 part 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). However, there was fluctuation in the penetration rate. The NCC EVC 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.

Challenge

Though the sector witness a slight decline in the broadband penetration in 2021 due to same factors, the Commission was able to reverse the trend. For instance, 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, the broadband penetration fell year-on-year 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 indicated 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 (SIM) swaps and all porting activities. T he 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.

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 SIMNIN 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.

Rebound

Meanwhile, regardless of all the declines and fluctuations witnessed in the broadband penetration, NCC was able to reverse the trend. Nigeria’s broadband penetration rebounded to growth trajectory based on the regulatory focus of NCC, the transformational leadership style and the commitment towards driving various initiatives aimed at deepening broadband penetration. In its recent data, the Commission stated that the penetration has now increased to 46 per cent.

Statistics

Statistics with respect to voice subscriptions, teledensity and Internet usage indicated that broadband penetration has continued to grow. According to the industry statistics published by the Commission, as of April 2022, active mobile subscriptions rose to 201.7 million; teledensity rose to 105.65 per cent and Internet subscriptions rose to 148.1 million. It indicated that broadband penetration had 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 and 15 per cent at the end if 2022.

NCC’s efforts

Part of the efforts of the Commission towards increasing broadband penetration was the launch of a grassgrowth roots 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.

Reform Initiatives

Despite many challenges experienced in the past, the role of the Nigerian Communications Commission has been to encourage competition, remove barriers to market entry, oversee interconnection of new operators with incumbents, monitor tariffs and quality of service, protect consumer rights, facilitate strategic collaboration and partnerships, and ensure the provision of telecom services for all. The complexity and dynamism of the Nigerian Telecoms sector demand that the regulator be a champion of innovative thought and embark on ambitious regulatory reform programmes. In the area of the development of regulatory instruments, the EVC said the Commission has initiated a review of its enabling law, the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, and all other existing regulations and guidelines. “It is important to note that effective regulation of the telecommunications industry in Nigeria has opened up a flurry of activities, investment opportunities, and improvement in the general business climate in the country. Nigeria has since witnessed a great increase in the number of market players, unprecedented growth in the network, empowerment of the Nigerian citizens, employment creation, economic simulations, and a substantial increase in access to ICT.”

Transformational policy

The NCC boss has claimed that the great achievements recorded in the sector concerning the broadband penetrate expansion and others are based on his transformational leadership style. He said: “Information and Telecommunications (ICT) is well known for the contributions of transformational leaders to the world. Bill Gates (Microsoft) Satya Nadella of Microsoft also as well Steve Jobs and Tim Cook (Apple) have left their footprints in the annals of the history of a global transformation. “Experts in the field like James Mac- Gregor Burns have pointed out that transformational leadership can be seen when ‘leaders and followers make each other advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.’ “Thus the primary goals of transformational leadership are to inspire growth, promote loyalty, and instill confidence among group members.”

Efforts

Speaking on his effort in the industry, Danbatta said: “I was beckoned to serve as the NCC boss in August 2015. “Despite my modest accomplishment as a professor of Telecommunications Engineering, I was not oblivious to the fact that I was appointed to lead a transformation in a sector that was already vibrant. The challenge was obviously how to not only sustain the gain but to ensure growth in leaps and bounds. “Upon assumption in office, however, I had to do what every transformational leader in my position would do: sharing my vision for the organization and the industry with the Management. A committee comprising staff of the Commission was swiftly constituted to brainstorm

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