NCC and ongoing efforts to re-tool InfraCo Framework

Recently, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) disclosed that the Commission is in the process of reviewing the agreement establishing Broadband Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos).

Danbatta made this known in a presentation he made at the sectoral virtual forum organised by the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON).  The meeting focused on the need of Telecom and ICT Consumers in the Era of Covid-19 and Post Covid-19 Pandemic cum Digital Economy Era with a view to meeting the New Broadband Target of 70 per cent.

Its theme was: Meeting the Interests of Government, Consumers and Telecom and ICT Companies in the Era of Covid-19 and Post Covid-19 Pandemic for Digital Economy Development.

The sectoral forum converged regulators’ interests, to ensure a competitive telecom market and fast track development of the telecom and ICT industry; operator’s interests, to enable an environment for businesses and protection of investment in the sector; and consumer’s interests, a satisfaction in terms of quality of services, affordability access and connectivity; for digital economy development.

According to the EVC, the Commission is reviewing the InfraCo Framework as mandated by the new National Broadband Plan 2020-2025. He also disclosed that six InfraCos agreement processes are currently ongoing.

Open Access Model

The Danbatta-led NCC has been pursuing deepening broadband penetration to several unserved and underserved areas through its Open Access Model (OAM) project aimed extending access to digital services across the 774 local government councils through licensing of InfraCos.

In 2015, the Commission licenced two companies as Infracos. One for Lagos (Main One Cable Company) and the other for North Central (HIS Ltd) but the second company returned its licence. In 2018, NCC licenced additional five companies as InfraCos covering other geo-political zones to drive the deployment of broadband infrastructure.

The licencees include Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South Zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West Zone; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West Zone; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East Zone; MainOne Limited for Lagos Zone and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East Zone.

The remaining licence for North Central Zone is being processed, according to the Commission.

As a stimulus to encourage investors of InfraCo to roll out, NCC made provisions in the 2017 and 2018 budgets for subsidies to the InfraCo licensees and it is now working with the federal government, through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, to ensure disbursement of the counterpart funding to the licensed InfraCos upon attainment deployment milestones.

Under Prof Danbatta’s guidance, Nigeria’s broadband penetration rose from a mere 6.0 percent in 2015 to 40.14 per cent in May, 2020. Active Internet subscriptions also increased from 93 million to over 141 million currently during the period.

The number of active telephone subscribers also rose from 150 million in 2015 to 192.32 million in May 2020 with teledensity currently standing at 100.72 percent, following the rebasing the teledensity to 91 percent in March, 2019.

Broadband As Bedrock of Digital Economy

Meanwhile, speaking at the virtual forum The President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola stated that with Nigeria’s telecom sector is witnessing several important developments from President Muhammadu Buhari’s renaming of the ministry which supervises the telecoms and ICT sector to the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy back in October 23rd, 2019.

He said this is further expanding its mandate to capture the goals of digitalisation of the Nigerian economy in line with the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP), to the recently launched National Broadband Plan 2020 to 2025, the unveiling of a National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), to the constitution of Implementation and Steering Committee for the plan, all these would empower Nigerians (consumers) to take advantage of the Nigerian digital economy.

He emphasised that interdependence and collaboration among the government, telecom and ICT companies and Nigerians are clearly necessary but each of separate stakeholder has limitations and potentials.

Effective Delivery of ICT Services

Teniola added that to attract further investment into the sector through consumerism and enactment of friendly policies and regulation by the government, the need for the forum couldn’t be overemphasised as the platform would provide for governments, consumers (corporate and personal) and telecommunications and ICT companies on how consumers can be better off in terms of effective delivery of telecoms and ICT services and products in Nigeria.

Chief executive officer, MainOne Cable Company, Funke Opeke, said, “In this digital age where broadband connectivity is the bedrock of a thriving digital and national economy, we need to focus on increasing access to broadband penetration beyond Lagos and Abuja for our shared economic prosperity, job creation and digital security.

“We will need to take advantage of the opportunities the digital economy provides if we are to create jobs for Nigerian youth in the not-too distant future,” Opeke, said while presenting a keynote speech at the Startup South Conference held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom recently with the theme “Unlocking the Next 60 Million: Making Broadband Accessible and Affordable.”

She said for Nigeria to make appreciable progress in job creation, the country needs to ensure that broadband penetrates all the villages, towns and cities in all the 744 local government areas of the nation.

In the opinion of Mr. Ayotunde Coker, chief executive officer, Rack Centre Limited, leading datacentre operator, “Right of Way (RoW) permit is still a big issue in Nigeria. There is a standardised RoW rate but it is not being implemented by some state governments. I would rather advise state governors to give incentives to telecom companies to come to their states to lay fibre because penetration of fibre brings reliable telecoms services to the people wherever they are. It brings in industries, the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) will increase significantly because fibre is there.

“RoW should be encouraged and telecom companies should be encouraged to invest in infrastructure. If you get infrastructure right then every other thing will work. You cannot have technology hubs such as Co-creation Hub and tech villages without the underlining factor of infrastructure. And they wouldn’t be feasible if the infrastructure was not in place at the right price,” Coker said.

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