Nigeria: Behind broadband penetration target

The Nigerian broadband penetration target of at least 70 per cent by 2025 is still on course, but the government has barely made 10 per cent improvement, writes EHIME ALEX

With less than three years to achieve its broadband penetration target, record shows that the Nigerian government is trailing 65.60 per cent behind its National Broadband Plan (2020-2025), Financial Street can report.

The country has set an ambitious target to achieve at least 70 per cent broadband penetration by end of 2025. But, while the five-year plan is still counting, the latest data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission shows that broadband penetration stands at 42.27 per cent in March 2022.

Designed to deliver data download speeds of about 25 megabytes per second in urban areas and 10Mbps in rural areas, the plan is also to cover at least 90 per cent of the country’s population.

According to findings by Financial Street, broadband penetration increased minimally from 38.49 per cent in January 2020 to 42.27 per cent in March 2022, even as mobile subscription saw a modest pick at 80.68 million from 73.47 million in the period under review.

The government hoped to achieve 90 per cent broadband penetration in the country by 2023, said the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami. “We developed the National Broadband Plan 2020-2030, which targets a 90 per cent penetration rate in terms of population and a 70 per cent rate in terms of our total landmass within the next two years. It also targets a speed of 25mbps for urban areas and 10mbps for rural areas.”

Be that as it may, the economic growth opportunities afforded by the deployment of broadband technologies can only be imagined. It is said that every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration could result in about 2.6 per cent to 3.8 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product.

Nigeria’s GDP grew by 3.98 per cent year-on-year in real terms in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

This shows a sustained positive growth for the fifth quarter since the recession witnessed in 2020 when output contracted by -6.10 per cent and -3.62 per cent in Q2 and Q3 of 2020 under the Coronavirus Disease.

Meanwhile, the total percentage of telecom sector contribution to the country’s GDP in Q4 2021 stood at 12.61 per cent relative to 10.88 per cent in Q1 2020.


National Broadband Plan

To meet the ambitious targets, the Nigerian government has said that it would focus on four critical pillars, which are infrastructure, policy, demand drivers and funding/incentives.

“Nonetheless, the plan remains ambitious, given the capital requirements estimated at $3.5bn to $5bn, for effective execution over the five-year period of 2020 to 2025,” the Federal Government of Nigeria stated, while desiring private sector’s participation for optimal results.

Broadband penetration is defined as the number of subscriptions to fixed and mobile broadband services, divided by the number of residents in each country.

While total Internet connection increased to 145.85 million in March 2022, from 128.72 million in January 2020, experts were of the view that most of the connections were on low-speed Internet networks.

However, percentage of subscribers utilising telecommunications services per the various technologies/standards deployed in Nigeria as at March 2022 shows that Global System for Mobile telecommunication occupies a market share of 99.80 per cent, leaving Voice over Internet Protocol and Fixed Wired to a market share of 0.11 per cent and 0.10 per cent respectively, with zero per cent for Code Division Multiple Access.


What government should do

In its recent report on the state of digital rights and inclusion in Nigeria in 2021, Paradigm Initiative, a social advocacy group, expressed concern over the measures to transform Nigeria into a leading digital economy.

According to the initiative, the state of digital rights and inclusion in Nigeria can be broken down into five sub-themes: digital infrastructure and prioritisation of the Information and Communications Technology; freedom of expression on the Internet; privacy, digital identity and surveillance; Internet disruptions; and Artificial Intelligence.

In June 2020, Nigeria unveiled the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, to transform the country into a leading digital economy providing quality life and digital economy for all.

The policy is expected to be implemented in 10 years through eight action points or pillars, of which the third aims for “Solid Infrastructure” which will allow for “deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure to deepen broadband penetration in the country.”

Paradigm Initiative, however, noted in its report that as a country with median age of 18 years and a high unemployment rate, Nigeria is in need of a drastic increase in technology upskilling and reskilling initiatives within the workforce, to leverage the potential of the fourth industrial revolution and to sustain the nation’s labour market.

“Government must respect the right to freedom of expression, forming the foundation of most democracies,” it stated.

It urged the country to pass data protection legislation and establish an independent data protection authority, able to call government agencies and private actors with personal data access to order.

It stated, “Governments should identify best practices to solve issues at their source, prioritising alternatives to Internet shutdowns. Sharing experiences across and within various countries could lead to solutions that do not rely on access constraints.

“Governments should do a cost-benefit analysis of the cost of Internet shutdowns. Network outages stifle productivity, undermine business confidence and jeopardise short- and long-term financial commitments. Individuals should learn more about how to circumvent network disruptions through tools like VPNs, as well as interact with the law and ensure that rights are upheld.”

According to the group, the country also needs a national AI policy that prioritises adherence to Nigeria’s democratic ideals, complying with the country’s constitutional principles, and assisting Nigerians in meeting their socio-economic demands.

It said, “The policy should uphold algorithmic accountability, data security, explainability of machine-learning decision-making, and the protection of citizens’ rights against infringement.”

It also urged civil society organisations and other stakeholders to continually monitor the consequences of digital rights violations and play a key role in pressuring governments to be more accountable and transparent.


Tariff hike

No tariff hike without recourse to empirical studies, NCC insisted, perhaps in the interest of subscribers, to stop service providers’ agitation for tariff increase.

The Mobile Network Operators, under the auspices of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, citing high operation cost, had wanted to raise the cost of calls, short message service, and data by 40 per cent.

“It is noteworthy that tariff regulations and determinations are made by the Commission, in line with Sections 4, 90 and 92 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, which entrusts the Commission with the protection and promotion of the interests of subscribers against unfair practices, including matters relating to tariffs and charges,” NCC said.

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