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Why Pantami should revisit failed 2013-2018 National Broadband plan

Although it has taken nearly one year, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy has finally gotten the process for a new National Broadband Plan underway.

The new plan which is expected to have a lifespan of six years is being drafted in partnership with the UK government would need to borrow significantly from the previous plan which in terms of implementation would be considered a failure.

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The only prominent achievement that came as a result of the plan was the broadband target which grew from 6 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2018. It is currently at 37 percent according to data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

The National Broadband Plan’s headline target was to achieve 80 percent penetration of 3G mobile wireless broadband by 2018 and the five-fold increase of broadband penetration, from the 2013 penetration of 6 percent to 30 percent, by the end of 2018

While 33 percent may look like success for the government, but the process of making that happen was largely left unattended to.

For instance, the plan defined broadband as an internet experience where the user can access the most demanding content in real-time at a minimum speed of 1.5 Mbps, and without buffering of video content. It also acknowledged that mobile broadband was the fastest route to the attainment of its objectives for coverage and penetration, and recognised that detailed rollout of broadband fibre infrastructure from international broadband cable landing points off the coast of Nigeria (particularly Lagos) into the Nigerian hinterland as city and metro networks was a prerequisite to gaining stable internet.

To make that happen, the plan set out to define the open-access framework and secure Right of Way (RoW) waivers with states. Many years later, the federal ministry of communication technology and the NCC saddled with that responsibility, has been unable to make any progress. Presently, the government said instead of waivers it would work towards harmonisation of the RoW.

Right of Way charges constitutes a major hindrance to fixed fibre deployment, sometimes constituting 50 to 70 percent of the cost of fibre deployment in some states in Nigeria.

The National Broadband Plan also projected to enable expedited RoW permits for the rapid rollout of base stations. Stakeholders say this is yet to be achieved as the Ministry of communication and the Ministry of Works are yet to commence working together.

The plan also projected to engage the National Assembly, state governments and NCC to declare fibre cables critical national infrastructure. Again, the ministry did not execute an action on this. Only recently the government said it would come up with an executive order to make the declaration. While that may be a quick fix, an executive order is an order issued by the President that is enforceable by members of the executive branch of government until either overturned by a law established by NASS or overturned by a ruling by a court. Only the national assembly has the power to make the declaration a lifelong achievement by making the declaration constitutional.

There are numerous actionable plans that are yet to be achieved.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the 2013-2018 National Broadband Plan was by no stretch of the imagination, a perfect one. Experts still say the 30 percent target was too low and could have gone higher. But many see it as the first document that made an effort to set a clear course to where Nigeria ought to be in terms of digital technology.

As it stands, all that’s left as a memory of the plan is the 33 percent broadband penetration. While a new 6 years National Broadband Plan is long overdue, its progenitors can borrow so many things from its predecessor.

Interestingly, the current minister was then the director-general of NITDA, the agency with the biggest responsibility for executing the national broadband plan. Although his stewardship of the agency may raise some doubts, he now has an opportunity as the minister to push Nigeria into the 21st century by going back yo where it all started – the National Broadband Plan 2013-2018.

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