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Cable cuts cost $23m in 2023 in blow to internet quality

Cable cuts cost $23m in 2023 in blow to internet quality

Frequent fibre optic cable cuts, leading to a loss of at least $23m last year, are increasingly causing internet outages and impacting telecom service quality in Nigeria.

In February, millions of MTN Nigeria customers could not make calls or connect to the internet for about four hours because of multiple fibre cuts. These cuts are becoming increasingly common, disrupting internet speeds, access, and reliability.

In 2023, the House of Representatives raised concerns about the country’s deteriorating telecom quality.

Read also: Cable repairs to take 8 weeks as internet disruptions persist in West Africa

“Nigerians lose valuable business hours and finances due to poor service delivery by these network service providers,” said Emmanuel Ukpong, a Reps member, representing Ikono/ Ini Federal Constituency.

Fibre optic cables are vital to connectivity because they bring network capacity closer to subscribers. As of 2023, Nigeria had deployed 78,676 kilometres of fibre optic cable, with most concentrated in urban areas like Lagos (7,864.60km), Edo (4,892.71km), FCT (4,472.03km), Ogun (4,189.18km), and Niger (3,681.66km).

In a recent submission to Bosun Tijani, the minister of communications, innovation, and digital economy, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) emphasised the importance of an uninterrupted infrastructure network, including fibre cables, towers, and data centres, to optimal service quality.

“Depending on the root of the impact, it can lead to prolonged outages. It also disrupts smooth operations,” Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said.

These cuts are expensive to fix. According to a Bloomberg report, damaged cables cost telcos N27 billion ($23 million) in repairs and lost revenues in 2023, with MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa Plc shouldering most of the costs.

MTN suffered more than 6,000 fibre cable cuts in 2023. The report said MTN relocated 2,500 kilometres (1,553 miles) of vulnerable fibre cables between 2022 and 2023, costing more than N11 billion. This investment could have built 870 kilometres of new fibre cables in underserved areas.

Data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) reveals that the telecom industry spent N14 billion to repair around 59,000 fibre cuts between 2022 and 2023. In 2022, the NCC pegged the number of fibre cuts to 40 daily.

The NCC estimates that over 50,000 cases of significant damage to telecoms infrastructure, including fibre cuts, have been reported in the past five years, ending 2023.

Read also: Nigerian cable manufacturer bags three ISO certifications

Temitope Ajayi, a senior presidential aide, recognised that these fibre cables are a critical backbone of the economy. Since 2004, the telecom industry has clamoured for the classification of telecom infrastructure as a national asset to curb the growth of these cuts.

ALTON recently urged Tijani, the minister of communications, to collaborate with key stakeholders to declare telecoms infrastructure a critical national infrastructure.

This classification may happen sooner rather than later as the country prepares to criminalise the destruction of broadband fibre cables. The Ministry of Works is finalising a regulation to protect fibre cables, which President Bola Tinubu will sign as an executive order, according to Bloomberg.

With broadband penetration at 43.08 percent as of February 2024, securing existing infrastructure is crucial for growth. Aminu Maida, the executive vice chairman of the NCC, shares this sentiment.

“We need to build a reliable telecom industry with impressive quality of service indicators with quality of experience as our watchword and ultimate goal. This also requires us to address several issues such as the Right of Way challenge, ensuring the security of our telecom infrastructure, among others,” he declared at a recent stakeholders event.