The operations of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) is undergoing changes to further position it for effective operations in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry.
This was made known by the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta at a forum in Lagos.
According to the EVC who was represented by the Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Ojobo, a lot of changes have been taking place within the USPF, especially with regards to its projects and operations.
He advised telecommunication operators to liaise with the secretariat to map out collaborative areas and ways they can work together. “The USPF will be advertising for some of the projects, and one of the things to be done is that operators can come together to execute projects.”
Operators had asked that framework for benefitting in the fund be made flexible and more accessible to operators.
Director, Regulatory & CSR, Etisalat Nigeria, Ikenna Ikeme, had called on the NCC to help in extending funding from the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), noting that it is a challenge trying to attract investment into the country, and the telecom sector is not insulated from this. Attracting local funding is also difficult as banks are not disposed to granting such huge funding for telecom infrastructure development.
With technology focus turning to data, there is a need for the operations of the USPF to refocus on enhancing and advancing the deployment of data service technologies into rural and unreached area.
According to its mandate, The USPF was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to facilitate the achievement of national policy goals for universal access and universal service to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural, un-served and under-served areas in Nigeria. The Fund is being managed to facilitate the widest possible access to affordable telecommunications services for greater social equity and inclusion for the people of Nigeria.
The USPF held a meeting with Stakeholders in April, 2016 to solicit stronger collaboration with Operators and service providers to deepen ICT penetration in the un-served and underserved areas of the country. This meeting gave rise to consideration on ways to enable operators gain access to the fund.
According to Ikeme, operators have contributed a lot in the fund and should benefit by having the Fund help them to reduce cost.
The communication Act stipulates that telecommunication operators must pay 2.5 per cent (%) Annual Operating Levy (AOL) to government. 40 per cent (%) of the AOL payments will go to the USPF.
In the past, operators have laid out demands on the USPF, noting that the Fund should be utilised in collaboration with telecoms operators.
Chairman of the Association of Licenced Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, while imploring members to diligently pay the AOL, had posited the establishment of realistic and feasible universal access targets and that the NCC should encourage rural entrepreneurs to co‐invest in telecom network with operators which will give mutual benefit both to local partners and entrepreneur local operators and local communities.
One of the key highlights of the restructuring of the USPF project plan is the allowance for operators to pool together to execute projects. This will further encourage collocation and infrastructure sharing among operators.
It is expected that with renewed operational collaboration between the USPF and operators, cost of deploying infrastructure in rural and under developed areas will get a boost and further push access to such communities.