Nigeria 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks toUmar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), on boosting local broadband penetration, its commitment to regulatory excellence, and cooperating with regional operators.

Umar Garba Danbatta
Umar Garba Danbatta holds B.Eng and Msc degrees from the Technical University of Wroclaw, Poland, and a PhD from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK. He began his career in 1985 as a lecturer in the department of electrical engineering at the Faculty of Technology at Bayero University, Kano. Prior to his appointment, he held top management and administrative positions at the university. Danbatta was the Vice President of the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), International Center for Advanced Communications Studies.

The government intends to increase broadband penetration to 30% in 2018. What role does the NCC play in achieving this goal?

The penetration rate today stands at 21%, and this figure comes from the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development on September 2016. We were pleasantly surprised because we thought the figure would hover around 14%. We have nine percentage points to go by 2018, and it looks increasingly likely we will reach that 30% target—if not surpass it—with recent 4G LTE services that have been, and will be, introduced into the sector. This is made possible by two things, the first being our careful deployment of available spectrum. Recently, we auctioned the 2.6GHz spectrum and, during that auction, MTN emerged as the preferred bidder with six slots totaling about 30MHz. We still have eight to sell. After that successful auction, we did a post-mortem to determine why other operators did not participate in the process. The stakeholders, and operators in particular, have made great suggestions. We have collated all observations and suggestions and will examine them and again embark on another auction for the remaining eight slots. We are not as concerned about money as about reaching our broadband penetration targets. Our intention is to ensure we achieve the 30% target by 2018. The second issue is infrastructure. If we do not have the infrastructure to roll out broadband services, the target will not be reached. We studied the fiber-optic map in the country to determine the access gaps that need filling. We do not make guesses but act on hard facts and information to ensure the gaps are plugged as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. If we can get the spectrum and infrastructure to the level they need to be and at the right pace, our 2018 target is achievable and the current momentum looks great.

The government also wants to improve transparency and accountability in the country. What can the NCC do to facilitate that objective?

ICTs are generally adopted and used in a country for specific purposes and goals, and among the most important of those aims is to guarantee transparency and accountability in governance. ICTs play an important role in this sense, more important perhaps than any other benefits from the adoption and use of ICT. Transparency and accountability hold people in power in check, keep them honest, and make citizens feel included in the government process. These are in the overall interests of any polity and society. It increases trust in politics, economics, corporations, and society and allows all citizens to feel a greater sense of belonging and security.

The NCC received the European Awards for Best Practices in 2016. What are the factors behind that success?

When we unveiled our eight-item agenda, we stated our commitment to regulatory excellence and operational efficiency. We have stuck to this commitment, and the award is proof that our efforts have been recognized and appreciated. It attests to the fact that we are on the right track in implementing our eight-fold agenda. This award will inspire us to do more to maintain the confidence of our citizens and to improve the quality of our services to positively impact Nigeria's socioeconomic development.

How do you cooperate with other regulatory bodies in the ECOWAS region to grow the sector in West Africa?

We are an important member of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and the West African Telecommunications Regulators Association (WATRA). The purpose of establishing ATU and WATRA was to ensure collaboration and exchange of ideas consistent with global best practices for the benefit of all member nations. We deal with, discuss, and interact over regulatory issues, learning from and helping each other develop the best regulatory frameworks for each member state in order to help us attain our short-, medium-, and long-term goals as well as deepen the adoption and use of ICT. It has been a beneficial experience for us all.