IN LINE FOR ONLINE

Nigeria 2016 | TELECOMS, IT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), on encouraging private sector investments in broadband, improving access to ICT services, and the government's vision for leveraging technology to drive growth.

Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta
BIOGRAPHY
Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta became the Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in 2015. He earned a BEng and an MSc from the Technical University of Wroclaw, and received his PhD from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Professor Danbatta recently served as a member of the Implementation Committee of the Northwest University Kano, and as the Acting Vice-Chancellor of Kano University of Science & Technology in Wudil. He is a member of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria as well as the Nigerian Society of Engineers.

How is the NCC encouraging private sector investment in broadband?

The growth of broadband in the country has been a critical area of focus for the NCC in the last few years. The impact of broadband penetration on economies across the world has been empirically proven. The Commission articulated a new broadband infrastructure framework called the Open Access Framework to facilitate the rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure across the country. Under this framework, the country has been divided into seven licensing areas, where each area will have a licensed Infrastructure Company (InfraCo). This is meant to support such strategic initiatives as accelerating the deployment of metropolitan broadband infrastructure across the country that is currently inadequate, successfully conducting licensing for the Lagos and North Central zones, licensing several retail service providers like ISPs to drive broadband delivery to subscribers, transparent auctions of one slot of 30 MHz bandwidth in the 2.3 GHz spectrum band on a wholesale basis to provide the required infrastructure for RSPs for the delivery of broadband services to customers, and encouraging the deployment of 3G Mobile broadband services in every state across the country. The impact of this can be seen in the exponential growth of subscribers with internet access from about 30.9 million in December 2012 to about 97 million in September 2015. The NCC is also effectively engaging with bodies like the Nigeria Governors Forum to address the issues negatively impacting investment in broadband infrastructure across the country, such as Right of Way charges, as well as streamlining taxes and fees required for the deployment of critical telecommunications infrastructure.

How do you plan to raise the level of telecommunications service across Nigeria?

We actively monitor technical factors to maintain service delivery at a high standard. We are also looking at non-technical factors in terms of improving overall service. Operators are subjected to multiple taxations at the level of federal, state, and local government, as well as sometimes even at the global level. There is also denial of the right of way for the deployment of fiber cables, sabotage of critical telecommunications infrastructure, and the issue of power supply. There is a bill in the National Assembly that will make the telecommunications infrastructure a critical infrastructure, the sabotage of which will become a serious national offense. We are also urging the government to implement a document on levies, multiple levies, taxation, and other issues. This will grant infrastructure companies unfettered access to sites and locations for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. Looking ahead, if and when they do accept this, and broadband services are deployed, the taxes they will generate from these services will easily warrant the initiative.

What initiatives will drive growth in the future?

Broadband will transform the economy and the way things are being done, perhaps on par with the transformative effects of electricity distribution. Broadband will determine the socioeconomic development of every country in the 21st century. The Nigerian government has therefore created a national broadband plan, which is envisioned to contribute up to 1.3% to GDP. Broadband will also enable the rollout of services that will benefit both the urban and rural population. The NCC has been assigned the responsibility of licensing infrastructure companies that will provide broadband infrastructure. That process has started with two licenses already issued; Mainone was licensed for Lagos, while another infrastructure company has been given the license to deploy Wi-Fi infrastructure in the North Central zone, where Abuja is located. There are five more zones to license. As soon as we have deployed the necessary technology to facilitate the rollout of broadband services, then the operators will be licensed and the spectra will be provided. We will have achieved the two main milestones of installing a mostly fiber broadband infrastructure in every major city and all rural areas across the country, and successfully auctioning the broadband spectra.