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‘Poor coordination of FG’s broadband penetration drive killing investors’ confidence’

An indication capable of meaning that the federal government is not serious in driving broadband penetration seems to be emerging as there has been series of back and forth policy pronouncements in recent times on the matter.

Speaking at a forum in Lagos recently, the minister of communications, Adebayo Shittu, said government would seek better ways to bridge the infrastructure gap in the country, which is impeding broadband penetration.

However, he said that Nigeria currently has less than 50,000 base stations and would require additional 800,000 base stations to substantially cover the broadband needs of the country.

Before now, the actual number of base stations needed for seamless broadband penetration, according to industry expert is in the region of 80,000 and 100,000 and not any figure near the Minister’s 800,000.

Again, addressing the State House journalists after Federal Executive Council (FEC), penultimate Wednesday, he said the newly approved 2017-2020 ICT Roadmap will among other things lead to 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2020. But it would be recalled that the target of 30 per cent penetration had been set by his predecessor, Mrs. Omobola Johnson to be met by 2018 and not 2020.

Business Hilights recalls that the former Minister set up national Broadband Committee headed by former Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Engineer Earnest Ndukwe and the team has covered several grounds before the advent of the present government.

Since the takeoff of the administration, activities of the Committee seemed hanging as it is yet to begin business of driving the broadband penetration.

Besides, latest statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) shows that Nigeria had already hit well over 26 per cent at the end of first quarter of this year, meaning that 30 per cent is assured by year end and not 2020.

Another angle of growing restiveness remains the uncertainties surrounding the nation’s data market segment.

According to the managing director of Spectranet 4G LTE, Mr. David Venn, the continuous running of data business without a definite data price floor is frustrating encouragements to invest more in networks expansion as the sub-sector is currently not profit driven due to lack of price floor.

In an interview with our correspondent, Venn said “lack of a prevailing price floor is weakening competition which is the key driver of investment in the sector as GSM companies have upper hand over others that deliver only data like some of us”.

Again, stakeholders had severally at various fora, called on the government and policy makers to see how they can work towards delisting ICT items from the 41 materials removed from easy access to CBN’ s forex window.

The president of Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engineer Olusola Teniola in an exclusive interview with Business Hilights during the opening ceremony of the International Workshop on Internet protocol version 6 (IPV6) in Lagos on Tuesday renewed calls on the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in particular to reconsider its inclusion of Information and Communications technology (ICT) equipments in the list of 41 items barred from accessing forex from the bank.

He said “The 41 items which include materials needed to drive telecoms network expansion are still under CBN’s forex window ban. It has not changed”.

“That means that the pronouncement made about two years ago delisting some 41 items from CBN forex window still remain.

The issue is that it does not mean that you cannot get dollars, but you are pushed to the costly parallel market.

“The surest way to deepen investment in the telecoms sector is to remove its equipments form the 41 items.

“A lot of our members are operating as SMEs and they are most hit in the forex crisis. We said it during the AGM and we are still saying it every day.

“However, CBN has intervened over the last three months by injecting a quantum of dollars into the wholesale market which has caused the interbank rate to lessen. That is a window on its own and there is a BTA rate which is about N360.

Teniola averred that currently IT operators are now confused as no company can plan in a scenario where there three rates that are not sustainable.

“Now you have the banks at N315, there is CBN at N301, and then, you have the BDC alongside the parallel market,” ATCON boss observed.

Stakeholders at the summit, however, criticised government’s policy and implementation plans in achieving the 30 per cent broadband penetration target for the country by 2018. They advised that government should do more in empowering Nigerians to have easier access to the Internet.

Chairperson, Alliance for Affordable Internet, Dr. Omobola Johnson, said, “Although Nigeria is making progress in the area of broadband access, we need more broadband infrastructure to serve the large population of the country.

“With 92 million Internet subscribers across the country, Nigeria, no doubt, has the market for investment and we are extending the investment opportunities to both local and international investor.”

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