Some stakeholders in the telecommunication industry have posited that to bridge the country’s broadband infrastructure gap and launch it towards achieving its penetration targets, the federal government should focus on facilitating the seven commercial infrastructure companies (Infracos) to roll out nationwide fibre optic networks and further incentivise operators and encourage network development and infrastructure sharing in rural areas through subsidies and public private partnerships.
Stakeholders at the Telecoms Executive & Regulatory Forum (TERF) 2017 organised by the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) in Lagos agreed that finance has been the primary mitigating factor hindering the effective rollout of infrastructure companies’ (InfraCos) services.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had in 2014, set up mechanism to license InfraCos that will provide broadband infrastructure across the six geopolitical zones and promised them incentives that will facilitate their rollout plans and minimise the cost implication. In January 2015, the Commission, as part of its bid to grow infrastructure, awarded InfraCo licenses to MainOne and IHS for Lagos and North Central geo-political zones respectively. This signified an opportunity to deepen infrastructure investments in Nigeria and to assure that the Broadband future which is critical to the growth of the economy is achieved.
According to Managing Director, Medallion Communications Limited, Ikechukwu Nnamani, the need to deepening Broadband penetration in Nigeria is to be taken seriously by both the government and private telecom operators. He pointed out that the financing challenge by operators have let them to seeking funding from foreign institutions, which comes to a head when they are asked to get guarantees from local banks. “Businesses are being affected by general economic situations in Nigeria.”
Nnamani noted that one of the sure ways of tackling the financing challenge and ensure that Broadband companies overcome the infrastructure challenge is through Bailout funding by the Federal Government. “There is no shame in asking for Bailout. The InfraCos are ready to roll out, all they need is the financing.” He said that the inability of telecom companies to bloom goes beyond good management.
He further projected a 50 percent penetration by the end of 2018 if the financing challenge will be resolved. “The demand is there, all they need is the financing. Even if the Right of Way is free, they cannot still roll out without finance.”
Also speaking, Director, External Affairs, ntel Nigeria, Osondu Nwokoro harped on the need to segment the industry so that entrepreneurs can key into the WiFi Hotspot sub sector as planned by the NCC. He noted that the Spectrum in that regards should be thrown open so that demand can drive service delivery, hence penetration.
Vice President, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, 9mobile, Ibrahim Dikko called for active infrastructure sharing by operators and declaration of telecom infrastructure and assests as Critical National Infrastructure as ways of deepening Broadband penetration. He also called on the federal government to put things in place to encourage local manufacturing of infrastructure.
In his position, Managing Director, Sunnet Systems Limited, Paul Olagunju noted that skills development and further promotion of entrepreneurship by NITDA and other bodies is required to develop manpower for Broadband implementation plan.
According to the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Danbatta, the five remaining geo-political zones in Nigeria yet to be licensed, which include South West, South, South East, North East and North West, will soon be licenced. He assured that the NCC has already put an incentive mechanism in place for upcoming InfraCos, even as it has been in talks with the licenced InfraCos to address any more challenges they are facing.
The EVC, who was represented by the Deputy Director, Technical Standards & Network Integrity, NCC, Bako Wakil, assured that InfraCos will remain Carrier-neutral to mitigate against unhealthy competition while also employing the Open Access model.
He maintained that InfraCos have to share infrastructure with existing operators. “Where there is already an existing metro fibre, InfraCos will lease of share from the existing operator.”
He further noted that the Layer restrictions have already been removed from the guidelines to allow operators easy collaboration.
With five fibre optic cable landing at the shores of Nigeria – West African Cable System (WACS), Glo 1, MainOne, African Coast to Europe (ACE) and The South Atlantic 3 (SAT 3), the country had been seen as being ready to take up the challenge of providing Broadband access to its citizenry. But with the landings came a new realisation; that it will require massive investment in infrastructure to get it to the people. This necessitated the licencing of InfraCos to set up Broadband infrastructure in rural communities.
The ATCON TERF was organized to create opportunity for the industry to interact with the regulator, with the aim of building a continual good working relationship; create opportunity for the regulator to update the industry on the regulator’s directions and plans; create opportunity for the regulator to receive feedback from the industry and brainstorm on measures that guarantee sustainable growth of the Nigerian telecoms industry.