No, Starlink has not given Nigeria 100% broadband penetration. Despite what the president claims

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February 7, 2023
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4 min read
starlink dish

On Wednesday, February 1, 2022, Nigeria's ICT Minister, Isa Pantami, stated that Nigeria had hit 100% broadband penetration. I ignored it as just government talk. However, I was surprised when Nigeria's President made a similar claim a day later.

I couldn't jump on it immediately, and I assumed media houses would fact-check his statement. However, I only found one refutal from the Daily Trust busting the claim that Nigeria was the first to hit 100% in Africa.  

Why did the president and the minister say this? Starlink's launch in Nigeria. Elon Musk's space exploration company, SpaceX, built Starlink, a service that uses low-orbiting satellites to provide Internet to the world's most remote areas.

Starlink's satellites allow you to access the Internet even in a remote rainforest or savannah in Nigeria.

Since these satellites are closer to the earth, they don't cover as much surface area, so the company has launched thousands of them and is currently obtaining licences to launch more in other African countries. We'll talk more about this later in the week, but back to the president's claim.

Does Nigeria have 100% broadband penetration?

The short answer is no; we're not even close. To know why, we need to understand what broadband and broadband penetration mean.

What does broadband mean?

Wifi switch depicting Broadband penetration

The claim that Nigeria now has 100% broadband penetration made me question whether I understood its meaning. So I went searching.

According to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), broadband refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and is typically offered through cable modems, fibre, digital subscriber lines (DSL), wireless, and satellites.

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Recent technologies like 4G and 5G can be considered a form of broadband as they offer comparable speeds and reliability to traditional broadband services. But you'll typically find traditional broadband in Nigerian offices and middle-class homes.

Now that we know what broadband is, how about broadband penetration?

I first asked ChatGPT and got the following response:

"Broadband penetration refers to the extent to which a population has access to and uses broadband internet services. It is often expressed as a percentage of households or individuals within a specific geographic area who subscribe to high-speed internet services. A high broadband penetration rate indicates widespread availability and usage of broadband services, while a low rate suggests limited access or underutilisation of these services."

Per the AI bot, access and usage need to be ticked for it to be considered high broadband penetration.

Since the popular AI platform didn't quote its source, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) offers some insight. It defines broadband penetration thus:

"The number of subscriptions to fixed and mobile broadband services, i.e. with advertised data speeds of 256 kbps or more, divided by the number of residents in each country. "

While ChatGPT factors in access and usage, the OECD accounts for the number of people using broadband services in a country.

You're probably wondering why we chose the OECD's definition since Nigeria is not yet a member. But my search shows that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) adopts usage as its metric to measure broadband penetration

So what did Nigeria's president mean by "broadband penetration"? 

Muhammadu Buhari2

While Starlink offers a broadband service you could access anywhere in Nigeria, it's the number of users that counts as broadband penetration. What Starlink gives Nigeria is 100% satellite broadband coverage. Hopefully. I say hopefully because other satellite Internet providers existed before Starlink.

However, looking at 3G/4G coverage, Nigeria's telcos are not far behind at ~80%. The question of their reliability deserves an entirely different article. So let's stay on topic for now.

Even though Starlink offers widespread coverage, Nigerians must pay ₦438,000 in black market rates or ₦275,000 at official rates, to purchase the $600 hardware. At $43, the monthly subscription will cost Nigerians ₦31,000 or ₦19,800.

For those who have been paying attention, millions of Nigerians have to use black market rates with virtual dollar cards to make such purchases.

Whether black market rates or official rates, Starlink is affordable for those in Nigeria's middle class and above. So we're not expecting widespread adoption. The US government subsidised Starlink with $900 million in 2022, but I'm not sure Nigeria wants to open that can of worms.

If people don't massively adopt Starlink, then 100% coverage is only meaningful to a select class of Nigerians.

As of December 2022, per the NCC, broadband penetration stood at 47%. If you've read our most recent data wars article, you'd see that the NCC's numbers could, sometimes, be flattering.

If we take a cue from the OECD, and divide the number of broadband subscriptions as of December 2022 (~90.3 million) by Nigeria's extrapolated population of 216.7 million, broadband penetration falls to ~42%.

If we add Nigeria's reported 88 million 3G/4G subscriptions, this picture is a little bit more flattering at 178 million. But this doesn't show the number of unique subscribers. At least, that would eliminate people like me with one fibre and two mobile subscriptions.

Verdict

In its most recent National Broadband Plan 2020–2025, the Nigerian government planned to hit 70% broadband penetration by 2025. A laudable objective that shouldn't be derailed by misleading statements.

Stating that Nigeria has 100% broadband penetration instead of possible coverage is misleading. It sends a wrong message to investors, and entrepreneurs alike, as it doesn't paint a decent picture of Nigeria's digital economy.

Journalist feasting on tech, business, and policies. Looking to chat? Catch up with me, @eruskkii, on Twitter or send a mail to emmanuel@techpoint.africa
Journalist feasting on tech, business, and policies. Looking to chat? Catch up with me, @eruskkii, on Twitter or send a mail to emmanuel@techpoint.africa
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