Nigeria: Digital development

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A new draft National Information and Communications Technology ICT Policy, released in January, aims to bring together all of Nigeria’s related technology policy under a single statute, overhauling outdated regulations to better manage the country’s dramatic growth in computer and internet usage over the past decade.

Under the policy the government will create legal and institutional frameworks. The draft also targets improving access, investment, research and development, and plans legislation in cyber crime, ethical and moral conduct, privacy, copyright, intellectual property rights, piracy and e-transactions.

Moreover, talks of a merger between the country’s telecommunication regulator, the National Communication Commission (NCC), and the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), which oversees radio and television broadcasts, have restarted. Efforts to bring to the two together stalled under President Olusegun Obasanjo, but ICT Minister Omobola Johnson recently declared that streamlining the regulators would be a requisite to achieving the country’s target of fully migrating to digital transmission by 2015. It would also open up frequencies for telecom operators to widen their offering of voice and data services and, consequently, increase penetration, especially in the country’s rural areas.

The ICT industry is seen as increasingly important to Nigeria’s development, with officials estimating it will provide an estimated $900bn to GDP over the next nine years and will increase its current contribution of 3.5% of GDP to 5% by 2015. Last July, the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology was established under part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s wide-sweeping reform programme, with Johnson at the helm.

In February, Johnson announced plans to establish a professionally managed ICT innovation venture capital fund and create four software incubation centres by the third quarter of 2012. She has previously noted that the country’s ambitions to emulate India’s success in software development require the government to support sector growth.

“About N750m ($4.7m) to N1bn ($6.3m) will be needed to establish the incubation centre,” Johnson said in February at a conference on ICT use, adding that the centres will accelerate the development of a commercial software industry. The government, along with contributions from the private sector, will provide seed capital for the venture fund.

Under the draft ICT policy, the government is also committed to enhancing institutional capacity to address cyber-crime, as well as collaborating with regional and international agencies. It also demands operators take all steps to prevent the use of their networks for internet-related fraud, which Nigeria has developed an unsavoury reputation for.

Observers also note sector development further depends on the availability of affordable broadband infrastructure access, promotion of local content development and cost effective public service delivery. In February, the government estimated broadband penetration at just 6%, although bandwidth to the country is now supplied by four undersea cables – the result of a dramatic increase in connectivity in recent years, with three new cables linking the country to the rest of the continent and Europe including Glo-1 and Main One. There are plans to join the West Africa Cable System, set to launch by April this year.

In February, Funke Opeke, the CEO of Main One, criticised the lack of a national backbone ICT infrastructure, as it impedes broadband services delivery. “People want better access to the Internet,” Opeke told The Nation, a local paper. “They want it faster, cheaper, and they want to be able to drive new kinds of applications, as well as access to different types of content.”

For the government’s part, Johnson said at the opening of the youth ICT programme in Lagos that the government was working to double broadband penetration by the end of 2012 through aggressive expansion into both urban and rural areas.

“The ministry is working closely with the NCC to ensure rapid broadband deployment in urban and rural communities,” she said, noting the NCC’s State Accelerated Broadband Initiative programme aimed to drive broadband penetration in rural communities.

A particular issue facing operators’ efforts is a lack of right-of-way to expand their terrestrial networks, especially in dense, urban areas such as Lagos. As a result, trenches opened up for fibre instalment are often closed by road work or traffic police before operators have had a chance to finish their activities. Market leaders MTN and Bharti Airtel have now come together to lobby for fibre’s classification as critical national infrastructure, which, if granted, would provide both priority and protection.

Efforts like these, combined with a refocused sector policy framework, should ensure that Nigeria’s ICT sector keeps pace with the population’s rapid uptake of new technology and services.

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