By Emeka Aginam
While the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU), 2012 regulatory report released last week highlighted the vital importance of national regulatory framework in accelerating broadband roll-out and stimulating the development of new digital goods and services, participants at the just concluded West African Information and Communication Technology Congress, (WAFICT) 2012 rose up from the conference saying that except effective national regulatory frameworks were put in place by the African governments including Nigeria, achieving broadband roll-out may be far fetched.
For majority of the speakers at the event that ran side by side with exhibition series, broadband penetration in most African countries including Nigeria is still very low compared to what is obtainable in other parts of the world.
While voice gap is getting narrower on the continent, data gap, according to the speakers seems to be getting wider by the day, meaning that broadband roll-out has become a matter of necessity.
At the forum, speakers were able to harmonize views on how best to achieve broadband penetration through effective and smart regulations.
New policy frameworks
Meanwhile, according to the ITU new report, the huge volume of data generated by fixed and mobile broadband applications means that most countries are now facing a critical ICT infrastructure deficit. Given the importance of broadband to each country’s ongoing development, this deficit, the report say is fast becoming a major public policy issue requiring the formulation of new cross-sectoral broadband policy frameworks. Encouragingly, over 130 governments have today adopted or are planning to adopt a national policy, strategy or plan to promote broadband.
“Ensuring investment and innovation without stifling competition is the key challenge today’s ICT regulators face,” sITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré., said, adding that “In order for all citizens to benefit from the economic growth driven by broadband, huge and sustained investments in networks are needed. This report looks at how regulators could help, and what innovative regulatory measures might be able to achieve.”
Nigeria ripe for broadband
Earlier in his presentation, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian telecom regulatory agency, Dr. Eugene Juwah told the gathering that Nigeria was ripe for broadband. With more than 90 million active lines available for the population compared to 400,000 years back, this was a huge performance at 64.98% teledensity compared with some 0.44% in 2001.
“The world has taken voice telephony as basic while moving fast into the new world of data transmission that defines the speed with which businesses are conducted in the cyber space , the internet. . Broadband is simply characterized by the speed at which the internet highways transmit data from one end of the world to another or from one computer to another.” he explained.
Stable regulation, challenges
Although the regulatory environment in the country has remained stable and attractive to the global investment community, according to Juwah, there still remain a number of challenges.
One of the difficult challenges to wide scale broadband infratsructure deployment, according to him is the issue of right of way.
“State government could move away from the current practice of imposing one off charge for right of way based on distance to a new regime of periodic revenue steams from heir right of way assets” he said.
Strategy for broadband services
As a means of the Commission’s regulatory intervention, Juwah made case again for Open Access Model for broadband deployment.
“This is a model that provides a framework for sophisticated infrastructure sharing. Using this model, the broadband infrastructure market will be unbundled into three layers including the passive, the active and retail layers” he added.
For the DG, National Information Technology Development Agency, Prof. Cleaopas Angaye who was represented by Vincent O Olatunji, Deputy Director, Strategic Planning and Research at NITDA, developing countries still have a lot to do in bridging the existing digital divide.
According to him, lack of clear-cut broadband policy that could create the enabling environment and encourage private sector stakeholders to deliver the ‘last Mile” broadband access to homes and corporate organizations remains a major challenge.
In order to bridge the digital divide in West Africa through broadband, he suggested that there was need to put in place and implement a comprehensive “Broadband Policy” with requisite strategic plan for implementation. This should be vigorously pursued with appropriate timeline/Milestones. A regional body like ECOWAS, he said can take this up and encourage all member nations to implement at their own pace.
“West African countries have embraced ICT as the new tool of achieving sustainable socio economic development. However, the cost of access is still very high in the sub region. Hence, necessary measures should be put in place to encourage broadband deployment in order to make this important component of ICT available to all in the sub region.
This can only be achieved through the concerted effort of all stakeholders in implementing a comprehensive policy and plan and sustain it as a drive of the knowledge economy revolution.
“For West Africa to fully benefit from the development and the opportunities of the emerging information age, it will depend on how we are able to reduce the digital divide to initiate, support and maintain our socio-economic development towards an information and knowledge economy” he explained.
Similarly, in the opinion of Engr. Lanre Ajayi, the President of Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria, (ALTON) told the gathering that economic development will continue to stagnate in Nigeria unless broadband deployment is given priority attention.
“It is sad that we do not have broadband policy. I strongly believe that broadband should be regarded as part of a country’s critical infrastructure with right policy. That is the only way Nigeria and the rest of African continent can bridge digital divide. This is the time now” he added.
Meanwhile, in his opening remarks, the Editor-in-Chief of IT & Telecoms Digest, Mr. Mkpe Abang had told the audience that it was time to declare broadband as national emergency.
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