The roadmap which sterns from the period 2013 to 2017 as stated by Dr. Eugene Juwah, executive vice chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, would offer the best policies and regulatory framework for telecoms operators both in the global system for mobile communications (GSM) and code division multiple access (CDMA), to thrive with the delivery of quality service to subscribers with emphasis in rural telephony growth.
Juwah said it is a sector that holds the key to the realisation of the country's ambition to truly emerge as a dominant developing economy, and the application and promotion of communications technology to facilitate rapid growth and national development; it must be institutionalised in all facets of the economy.
Despite the achievements of the industry in the last 12 years from the period of liberalisation in 2001 and with the licensing of GSM operators, which has paved way for the achievement of telephone penetration of 110 million lines, the sector is burdened and dwarfed by worsening quality of service, multiple taxation, multiple regulation, deteriorating power supply, extraneous regulatory issues by other agencies of government, amongst others.
Although some of these problems, like multiple taxation, is a global issue and received global attention as articulated by Dr. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Juwah stated that some of these problems are peculiar to the Nigerian environment and needs to be tackled very urgently for quick resolution.
According to Juwah, the strategic management plan will be the culmination of series of strategic planning meetings, interactive sessions and forums.
“We want big stories to be written of the country's communications industry once more; and for the global community to always recognise us as a destination country for telecommunications investment. We also want Nigerian subscribers to enjoy the best of services, comparable to anywhere else in the world. Let's work together to develop programmes and projects that will ensure that communications technology really delivers a better quality of life for all our people,” and with these words, the NCC boss steered the platform for various telecoms companies such as Aitel, MTN, Glo, Etisalat, and other CDMA operators to indicate interest and make necessary inputs to what could best be described as a robust agenda for advancement in the telecom landscape.
Inputs from Telcos:
Reverberating on the need to extend telephony service to the rural communities and seeking for relevant inputs from telecom companies, Juwah charged MTN, Airtel, Globacom, Etisalat, and the CDMA operators to expedite action on their growth plans for an enduring five year management plan.
In response to the recent development, Mr. Akinwale GoodLuck, corporate service executive, MTN Nigeria, expressed the commitment of his company on rural telephony initiative, as it has established dealer outlets across the country with a view to increasing it to 120 for close contact with subscribers. “Looking at NCC's plan for five years, it is important to note that rural telephony is also our main target. In terms of specification, a community that is rural today may not be tomorrow and we have to take that into consideration in trying to map out a plan that would ensure development,” he said.
Furthermore, Akinwale affirmed that MTN will deploy low cost infrastructure that are easy to manage, and at a low rate for them to access with devices as against the proliferation of smartphones and 3G tablets for high income earners in urban areas. “We need to think of how we can put terminals that are easily accessible in rural communities, ensure the distribution of airtime channels for accessibility and affordability, innovation must go in here and with greater effort in rural telephony, there would be new measures of distributing airtime in our communities,” he added.
MTN foresees that the issue of subsidy for terminals would promote penetration in the remote parts of the country, and looking at alternative power in rural communities would increase efforts of operators in providing rural telephony that works.
According to Osondu Nwokoro, director, Regulatory Affairs and Special Projects, Airtel, there is need for collaboration between the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) of the government and telecom operators to align ideas on rural development initiative, to bring telephony to the grass root which has been the focal point of Airtel when it rebranded. He stated that there should be policy framework on fibre infrastructure roll out in rural communities and in ensuring that these areas are adequately covered, the government and NCC should protect operators from rural hostility, and right of way to drive penetration.
Broadband Service Provider:
In her contribution, Mrs. Funke Opeke, chief executive officer, Main One Cable Company, said the country cannot overlook the important economic benefits of expanding its broadband connectivity capacity, if it is to compete with the global league of developed countries, and that the pace of growth in Internet usage and broadband capacity distribution must be steadily sustained from now into the next few years.
She said in order to move forward in accordance with the objective of the forum, NCC and policy makers should take the lead and support the operators, by implementing appropriate policies and regulations to create favourable operating conditions that would encourage continued investment and innovation that will drive broadband penetration.
Opeke affirmed that the connectivity realities in the country, reflects an artificial over-abundant supply of international bandwidth without a corresponding supply of domestic bandwidth, as high domestic bandwidth prices, non-level competitive market for operators, access to last mile infrastructure fraught with discriminatory and prohibitive costs and poor quality of service, are symptoms of the domestic bandwidth sector that requires urgent intervention. She said the growth in the ICT sector has, to a large extent, been restricted to the voice telephony segment of the sector and has so far failed to extend to broadband and data segments, and that with tele-density below 2 per cent in 2001 to about 65 per cent within 10 years, the broadband segment is still yet to catch-up.
Expressing his views, Engineer Titi Omo-Ettu, former president of the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (Atcon) stated that, the 5-year management plan should provide affordable minimum 2Mbps on demand by 2015, 50million broadband users by 2020, restructure USPF and other funds to promote local investment, research and development (R&D), total access, full mobile number portability, free roaming by 2015, turn telephony into an empowerment tool and radicalise spectrum availability and allocation. Other recommendations includes protecting consumer interest by promoting informed consent, transparency and accountability in quality of service, tariff, and usage, transit substantially to new Internet Protocol (IPv 6) and encourage an ecosystem of Services on IP (Internet Protocol) platform, recognise peoples' right to broadband, and increase in rural tele-density to more than 80 in 100 by 2020.