Nigeria Targets Country-Wide Broadband Access by 2020

  • Fiber-optic network development licencees to be announced
  • "Too early" to review broadband goals, Danbatta says

Nigeria plans to help revive economic growth by expanding broadband Internet access throughout Africa’s most populous country by 2020 despite delays in rolling out the needed infrastructure, according to the telecommunications regulator.

“Broadband is the next frontier in the information communications and technology industry which will help in the speedy transformation of the Nigerian economy,” Nigerian Communications Commission Vice Chairman Umar Danbatta told reporters in Lagos, the commercial capital, on Wednesday. “By the time we roll out broadband, we expect Internet penetration to astronomically rise.”

The Nigerian economy probably expanded 3 percent last year, the slowest pace in 16 years, according to the International Monetary Fund. A plunge in oil prices has cut revenue in Africa’s biggest crude producer, which is also facing a record budget deficit to pay government salaries and build roads and power plants. About 97 million Nigerians have access to the Internet, Danbatta said, just over half the population of more than 170 million people.

The NCC, which is trying to extract a record $3.9 billion fine from the country’s biggest wireless company, Johannesburg-based MTN Group Ltd., plans to achieve its target by developing infrastructure and promoting competition, according to a policy document. An initial target would be as much as 30 percent broadband penetration by 2018, up from 4 to 6 percent in 2012.

Slow Progress

In a bid to start the broadband infrastructure roll-out, the NCC will award five licenses within three to six months to companies to build fiber-optic networks after the government divided the country into seven zones, Danbatta said. Two other licenses have already been issued to MainOne for Lagos and IHS for the north-central Nigeria zone, which includes the capital, Abuja.

Danbatta, who was confirmed as the new head of the NCC in November, said he has taken steps to engage with the two companies in a bid to iron out issues that have stalled the development in the broadband network in Lagos and Abuja.

While the slow progress casts doubt on the country’s ability to achieve its broadband penetration target, Danbatta said it’s too early to measure success.

“We have about two and a half years left,” he said. “To make a case for review now would amount to not acknowledging the work and effort made to come up with the broadband policy of federal government.”

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