Setting the Stage for a Broadband Future

  • Written by Elvis Eromosele
  • Category: Digital
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The world is going broadband. Everyone is talking on broadband. The benefits, the advantages and the great implications of deploying and wide-spread use of broadband have been touted over the past decade.
While there are a few countries, notable South Korea, that are currently seeing some of these benefits, for a lot of people, for Nigerians, waiting for Broadband is now almost like another wait for Godot. 
Those who should know put Nigeria’s broadband penetration rate at between six and eight per cent. So clearly if we wish to make anything out of the global broadband revolution the focus should be on how to improve this figure. Thankfully, the government appears to be ahead of the curve as it has started talking of seeking to achieve 30 per cent penetration by the end of 2018. This is good! 
Or maybe perhaps we need to first ask, is it really critical for Nigeria and Nigerians to be talking about broadband at this time? Shouldn’t we rather concentrate on more concrete things like steady power, housing, food and good roads?
Why Broadband
The reality however is that in this age, the information age, broadband is near indispensable. Indeed, experts swear it is the foundation for a (any) nation’s transformation to a knowledge-based economy. A knowledge-based economy, by definition, relies on the use of ideas rather than physical abilities and on the application of technology rather than the exploitation of cheap labor. It is an economy in which knowledge is created, acquired, transmitted, and used more effectively by individuals, companies, and communities to promote economic and social development. Clearly, for Nigeria with its huge young and internet savvy population operating a knowledge-based economy is today the most effective way to compete in this age. 
Without a doubt broadband infrastructure is an enabler for economic and social growth of the economy. Indeed a recent World Bank studies showed that in low and middle-income countries, every 10 per cent point increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.38 percentage points.
So it is safe to say we need broadband to move to the proverbial next level as a nation. But what do we need to do?
Easy! Make broadband readily available nationwide!
What is Broadband
But what is broadband?  It is essentially fast, and “always on” Internet access. The hype is however centered on five major areas of broadband applications broadly relating to improving quality of life, medical care, education, and governance. These application areas are: Video–based applications; Tele-health applications; Distance learning applications; E–government applications; and Emergency management operations applications.\
Broadband Infrastructure
To achieve widespread broadband availability therefore, there is an urgent need to invest heavily in the development of ICT critical infrastructure thus pushing internet penetration.  
For a start, the government can encourage and indeed enforce the principle of open access and infrastructure sharing to already existing transmission networks in order to facilitate an integrated national backbone. This is in addition to encouraging and where necessary subsidizing new investments in relevant infrastructure. 
For instance today, there is already an appreciable number of submarine cable (SAT 3, Glo 1, Main One and WASC) landings on the shores of the country providing combined capacity of over 9 Tbit/s. the concern however is the fact that all the landings are in Lagos and efforts to connect the hinterlands have proved  notoriously slow. Some sort of Federal Government intervention is evidently urgently required to improve the current situation. The government, through the relevant regulatory agencies, needs to promote the rapid delivery of additional cable landing points to other coastal states such as Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Ondo as soon as possible. It should also, as it has been argued, for National Security and resilience purposes, ensure that the cable companies all have demonstrable recovery and restoration agreements with each other. This will help to further accelerate the expansion and distribution of the currently under-utilised bandwidth to the rest of the country.
In addition, talks of five-fold increase in broadband penetration by 2018 would appear achievable if major challenges are removed, especially Right of Way (RoW) limitations and non-availability of spectrums. 
Similarly, some have called for regulatory intervention, through the establishment of ‘’Broadband Intervention Fund’’. The fund would encourage more service providers into broadband delivery, thereby creating more infrastructures and increasing access. This naturally would create competition, ensure improved access and precipitate a reduction in broadband cost. 
Furthermore service providers should seriously consider connecting to the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria, so that the country’s traffic will remain local, thereby saving cost.
While there are numerous definitions for broadband, what really concerns the man on the street, the end-user, is what he can do with it. Like the lizard, telecommunications companies are quick to pat themselves on the back for their contributions in this regards. None can begrudge them. The mobile telecommunications services providers are indeed a significant part of the internet access equation in Nigeria. They have made and still making tremendous investments to continue to improve access. 
At this point though, they simply need to focus on strengthening the quality of their offerings; improve network capacity and optimize existing infrastructure 
Another area of interest is the ownership of devices needed to connect to broadband services where they are available. Notably Lanre Ajayi, President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) have suggested that since individual computer ownership among students of tertiary institutions would help deepen internet penetration in the country, federal government should ‘donate’ personal computers like laptops to all Nigerian students in tertiary institutions. 
This is also the time for the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to move away from rhetoric. It should actively drive the establishment of ICT hubs, revitalize the mobile internet trucks and step up training activities working with relevant stakeholders. I digress!
Still on access devices, efforts should be made to provide smartphones, e-readers, and tablets to citizens at affordable rates including but not limited to installment payment plans, manufacturers discounts and subside as may be required. The government of the State of Osun has demonstrated that this is possible with the distribution of an electronic device known as 'Opon Imo' to ALL secondary school students in the state. This is highly commendable and should be emulated by other states.
Broadband is equally described as important to the 21st Century Information Age as Electricity was to the Industrial Age. It has a significant transformative effect on how people live and work. It empowers the individual user with previously unimaginable capabilities and global reach. While the Internet is the world’s biggest library and largest repository of information and knowledge; High Speed Access is critical to fully harnessing the benefits of the Internet.
Clearly, it is imperative that we must have access in the right quality, at the right speed and right price. With the coming of internet cable infrastructure, mass market and last mile access to the internet have to be given priority. Mass market system ensures that everybody is connected. Regulators, Federal and State governments must encourage private networks to build capacities that will take broadband to the last mile. This is how to set the stage for widespread availability of broadband. 
Elvis Eromosele, a writer, ICT & CSR enthusiast, works in the Corporate Communications Department of a major Telco in Lagos, Nigeria.