Nigeria To Witness Massive Telco Infrastructure Spread 

…As NCC Set To Ink Funding Agreement

Yemisi Izuora

The Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, is in the last lap of consummating a funding agreement that will see a massive spread of telecommunications infrastructure across the geopolitical zones of the country.

Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of NCC, said this has become imperative after he realized that infrastructure gaps existed around the country has impaired networks performance, leading to poor quality of service.

With the steady increase in telecom subscribers, the Commission decided that a robust telecom/ICT infrastructure was needed to meet up with growing demands for improved Quality of Service.

Dambatta, in his keynote address to set the tone for discussions at the occasion of the virtual 2020 Nigeria Innovation Week,noted that the innovative Tech Forum is another avenue for the Commission to intimate the general public and tech ecosystem about NCC’s plans for rebooting the economy following disruptions occasioned by the global COVID-19 Pandemic.

“I must commend the organizers of this very timely event for their innovation and quest to ensure the economy receives maximum support from all stakeholders following the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

“If I may recall, the first human cases of COVID-19 were initially reported in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019, and subsequently the Nigerian Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health, confirmed its first positive case of COVID-19 in Lagos on February 27, 2020. Since then, the Federal Government, through a coordinated action plan involving the State governments and the organized private sector, has responded vigorously to contain the impact of the pandemic.” he said.

The EVC, considered the theme of the 2020 Nigeria Innovation Week: ‘Innovating in Critical Times”  very relevant in view of the numerous challenges that the pandemic has thrown at national Governments, the ICT community and the health sector in particular.

According to him, The COVID-19 Global pandemic ripped through world economies like a wild bush fire, incapacitating local businesses, upsetting the workforce and rendering governments numb in the face of the outbreak.

“It is a well-known fact that nations that plan to succeed must have well-articulated policies in place to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, however, the COVID-19 Pandemic has exposed the frailties of even the most advanced nations.

“At the Nigerian Communications Commission, we are driven by the vision to build a telecommunications market defined by universal access to affordable and equitable service and that’s why, as EVC of NCC, I introduced the ICT industry to my Strategic Vision Plan (8-point agenda) on assumption of office as the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer in August 2015, which focused primarily on, Facilitating Broadband penetration, Improving Quality of Service (QoS), Optimizing Usage and Benefits of Spectrum, Promoting ICT Innovation and Investment Opportunities, Facilitating Strategic Collaboration and Partnerships, Protecting and Empowering Consumers, Promoting Fair Competition and Inclusive Growth,Ensure Regulatory Excellence and Operational Efficiency”.

Speaking further he said the driving force behind the eight-point agenda was to prepare the industry for the uncertainties and challenges that lay ahead, considering the disruptions caused by evolving technologies. This is to ensure that the sector continues to play its veritable role as the enabler of the nation’s economic growth.

The Commission, in continuing with its long-standing tradition of being a proactive regulatory approach, introduced policies and initiatives aimed at promoting the provision of efficient, available, affordable and easily accessible communications services throughout Nigeria, he said.

Also, he revealed that a proactive step taken by the Commission was the partnership with necessary stakeholders across the three tiers of government to collectively address challenges such as vandalism, multiple taxation & regulation, high cost of Right of Way (RoW), among others, which have been impeding speedy infrastructure deployment across the country.

For innovation to thrive as the anchor for accelerating economic growth post COVID-19, a robust broadband infrastructure upon which ICT innovations will ride, is a necessity and an urgent one at that, he said adding, “During my first term in office, we placed emphasis on broadband to drive innovation, and hopes to take broadband penetration to 70% by 2025 in line with the new target in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NBBP), 2020-2025. Through effective regulatory efforts, the NCC has been able to deepen connectivity in the country.”

“It became imperative for us at the Commission to introduce drastic measures at ensuring Nigerians receive value for money. We intensified our focus on the established key performance indicators (KPIs) for quality of service by instituting a regime of rigorous and continuous monitoring of the networks to ensure that they operate in tandem with set parameters.

In the long term, the Commission’s initiative to license Infrastructure Companies (INFRACOs) to bridge existing gaps will further improve not only broadband penetration but the quality of broadband experience.

Today we have six (6) licensed INFRACOs, one in each geo-political zone of the country, with Lagos State receiving special status because of its commercial centrality to the country. The seventh license for the North-Central region is being processed.” Dambatta said.

On the InfraCos, he said the Commission is in the process of finalizing the six Infracos Counterpart Funding Agreement to galvanise the full rollout of broadband infrastructure on an Open Access Model (OAM) aimed at enhancing digital transformation and this will ensure there is Point of Access in each of the 774 local governments in the country.

The result of this initiative is that apart from meeting and surpassing the 30 percent broadband penetration in December, 2018, in line with the NBP 2013-2018 target, NCC increased broadband penetration from less than 6 percent in 2015 to 43.30 percent by August 2020.

This translates to 82, 653,247 broadband subscriptions in the country as of August, 2020. These measures have been very instrumental to the emergence and survival of SMEs that have had to ride on the backbone of telecoms infrastructure during this pandemic.

“We all are witnesses to the disruptions caused by the Covid19 pandemic to the global economy, and it is noteworthy to emphasize the important role ICT has played since this outbreak. Many of us have been forced to work from home; government services have moved to online portals; our kids now attend virtual classes; lectures and conferences are now virtual; e-commerce has seen a significant uptick and boom globally; online payment for goods and services have now increased threefold; logistics and delivery businesses have seen huge surge in demand for their services. The above services require fast broadband and reliable means of connectivity and the NCC has continued to work assiduously with our Stakeholders in ensuring that the nation’s ICT infrastructure is able to meet the increased demand for connectivity.

The recent experiences underscore the need to continue to invest in research and innovation in order to find lasting solutions to current and emerging problems. It is in this spirit that the Commission has been supporting research efforts in our tertiary institutions. Till date, the Commission has awarded the sum of N345.4 million as research grants to the academia and as endowment of professorial chairs in two Nigerians to drive innovation through promoting local content development in the telecoms sector. We have also empowered the Nigerian youths by promoting their ingenuity and innovation on developing locally-relevant technology solutions. The latest of such was the NCC Virtual Hackathon, where the Commission gave out N9 million in grant to three top tech startups with the most promising innovative solutions for COVID-19.” he said.

He also said that, As important as all these are, there are questions about the safety of our cyberspace. With the preponderance of activities now happening online, the vulnerabilities of cyberspace have increased significantly. It is instructive to note that NCC adheres strictly with ITU guidelines for the global telecoms industry. We have officials at the Commission tasked with monitoring global trends to ensure that NCC is abreast of the changes and the emergence of new technologies.

The Commission according to the EVC, placed emphasis on growing the digital economy in collaboration with sister agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. Recognizing the need to entrench digital economy thinking in its operational activity, the Commission created the Digital Economy Department principally for implementing programmes and policies aimed at fully supporting and promoting the national digital economy agenda of the Federal Government.

“With the advent of the Covid-19, ICT has become the major backbone for government activities and local businesses. The re-direction of human traffic to online portals for major transactions as a result of social distancing also meant that cybercriminals have a larger audience and a much bigger playground to execute their nefarious activities. The NCC, CBN, major financial institutions and Security Agencies, we have diligently ensured that Nigeria’s Cyberspace is secured.

“NCC has been the major linkage in the drive for optimum economic development, as it remains the pioneer for all the major disruptions that would drive the nation’s economic reboot, especially the financial systems riding on electronic innovations. These innovations are driven by the availability of a robust communications infrastructure made possible by the Commission’s continuous quest for investment in the sector.

“Collaborative partnership between the NCC and the CBN has been very effective, leading to the development of various brands of electronic transaction models, which have totally reformed banking in Nigeria making it possible for instant cash transfers to folks in rural areas cutting out waiting times at banking halls and simplifying online transactions.” he said.

Between 2015 and 2020, much has been done to put Nigeria on the global map of nations that are electronically driven while delivering financial intermediation. Together with our stakeholders from the banking sector, the NCC is actively involved in the application of various electronic portals that continue to drive transactions off banking floor and onto handheld devices or personal computers.

The NCC, through its interventions, has continued to lift the Nigerian economy and create momentum and hope for financial inclusion based on the seamless implementation of the Commission’s Strategic Vision Plan.

He also noted that NCC’s Emergency Communication Centers (ECC) have been crucial in the Federal Government’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 1,209 COVID-19-related calls made between March and June 2020 from the nineteen (19) ECCs across the country. The establishment of the ECCs by the Commission across the nation was borne out of the need to safeguard all Nigerians irrespective of their geographical locations.

The Nigerian Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health, has been putting measures in place to ensure the Coronavirus disease is controlled and quickly contained. Nigeria’s multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) activated its national Emergency Operations Centre and swiftly swung into action with State governments to contain the spread of the outbreak around the country.

There are lessons to be learnt from the current pandemic, the most important of which is the need to continue to invest in infrastructure development in critical sectors of the economy, particularly the ICT sector, which has become the bastion of modern economies.

“We hope to reap the rewards of the Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) in the coming years and provide Nigerians the comfort of new innovations and new ways of living. This would imply that broadband penetration would be improved significantly through deliberate facilitation of investment in fibre infrastructure, QoS will be assured, available spectrum would be optimized with full benefits, there would be more investment opportunities in the industry, there will be access to strategic collaboration and partnerships, consumers would be fully protected and empowered, there will be fair competition and inclusive growth.

“The socio-economic benefits of the expansion in telecommunications infrastructure embarked upon by the Commission would be of immense benefit to the country, especially with the roll out of the 5G technology which currently is being test run in about forty (40) countries. This will be a significant upgrade for networks and will be the backbone for the future ICT industry post-pandemic recovery.

“Nigeria is exploring the potential benefits of deploying 5G technology as well as any health implications and once the coast is clear, a massive campaign will begin to enlighten Nigerians on the immense benefits that will be attained through 5G technology.” Dambatta added.

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