The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in December 2018 claimed that the nation has achieved and surpassed the 2018 30% broadband penetration target, set in 2013, by 0.9%.
According to the NCC, the number of broadband Internet subscriptions as at November 2018 was 58,965,478. Going by the stipulations of the 2013 Nigerian National Broadband Plan (PDF), NCC’s figures imply that over 58.9 million Nigerians have access to broadband service at a speed of not less than 1.5 megabits per second.
Digital rights activist and Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Gbenga Sesan has since called out NCC’s claim for using the wrong metrics.
“One of the first problems with their claim is that Nigeria has been measuring mobile subscription the wrong way — we have been counting the number of SIM cards instead of the number of subscribers. It is sad that after spending billions to register SIM cards and build capability for telcos to be able to ascertain actual subscriber numbers (not just number of SIMs, given that many people have multiple SIMs), NCC continues to calculate teledensity based on number of SIMs.”
Sesan was a member of the independent group that put together the national broadband plan in 2013. While speaking at Techpoint Inspired 2018, he revealed that the motive for the plan was to measure terrestrial infrastructure-enabled broadband and not mobile broadband.
Figures by the NCC put the nation’s teledensity at 120% as of November 2018. This simply implies that there are 120 active telephone connections per one hundred inhabitants in Nigeria.
For Sesan, this is a wrong metric to measure broadband penetration. He considers this as sending the wrong signal.
“A challenge this presents is that we are telling the world that our telecommunications market is saturated and that means we are not ready for additional investment.”
The regulator considers SIMs that activate data as connected to the Internet. This inevitably inflates the figures of Internet users and broadband penetration in the country. In the Nigerian context, the case of people owning more than one SIM is also applicable to people having multiple Internet connections at the same time.
Beyond attaining 30% penetration by 2018, one other objectives of the national broadband plan was to ensure the availability of broadband services at affordable prices while promoting pervasive broadband deployment.
But this is not the case as stakeholders in the broadband business have in the past attributed the low broadband penetration in the country to bureaucracy in the telecommunications industry.
There’s still a continuous disagreement between these industry players and government at various levels on the issue of Right of Way (RoW) charges. And so far, only two state governments — Lagos (partially) and Ogun — have given one of the players in the industry, MainOne permission to lay fibre optic in their states.
Another intention of the plan was for all state capitals and urban cities to have metro fibre infrastructure in place but this is not the case. Not every state capital in the South-West, for instance, has fibre infrastructure in place.
Akure, the Ondo State capital, has fibre optic installed but it’s not working. Those that sign-up for fibre optic service in the city have to resort to GSM networks for their Internet connection needs.
Sesan said the broadband plan was supposed to make broadband the new GSM. Homes in certain estates and business districts within major cities are expected to be connected to fibre as well.
Even on the assumption that NCC’s claim is accurate, it means the attainment of 30% broadband penetration is the only item that has been crossed off the objectives of the 5-year plan.