Internet penetration in Nigeria, home to Africa’s largest population and economy, stands today at only 6 percent. Through its National Broadband Plan, Nigeria is working to increase this figure to 30 percent within five years, but a number of major obstacles stand in the way of the country achieving this ambitious goal. One of these obstacles is the cost to connect to the Internet—for the 120 million people in Nigeria living on less than $2 a day, a basic fixed-line broadband connection would cost more than 64 percent of their monthly income, and 21 percent for a prepaid mobile broadband connection.
Building on the progress made at A4AI’s first multi-stakeholder forum in March, a coalition of more than 50 Nigerian leaders from the public, private, government and civil society sectors gathered in Lagos on July 14 to craft work plans to address the policy and regulatory obstacles to more affordable Internet access. These work plans focused on tackling three key issues: Open Access and Infrastructure Sharing, Consumer Awareness and Pricing Transparency, and Spectrum Policy.
Open Access & Infrastructure Sharing
Ernest Ndukwe, former head of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), led the discussion on the major challenges preventing Internet and mobile service providers from sharing infrastructure—like cell phone towers, fibre and cables—that can greatly reduce Internet costs for consumers. Landline infrastructure for broadband, Ndukwe said, is too expensive and takes too long to build in Nigeria—it currently takes an operator almost one year just to get approval for a site to build a cell tower. Ndukwe and other Nigerian experts have concluded that mass Internet adoption will have to be wireless and that access to 3G networks should be encouraged as much as possible. At the same time, government should mandate, through regulation, the sharing of any existing infrastructure.
The efficient management and creative use of spectrum (i.e., the bands of radio waves that make wireless communication possible) can also help reduce the cost of Internet access in Nigeria. Steve Song, a consultant and expert on spectrum issues, said that while Nigeria has been a pioneer in making spectrum licences available, policymakers could do more to ensure that policy and regulation keep pace with technological change, encourage creative use of spectrum such as Wifi and Television White Spaces, and make it easier for smaller and new operators to enter the market. Start-ups deploying new technologies that can inexpensively use Wifi spectrum to provide broadband coverage, for example, could greatly expand access, particularly in rural areas where large operators do not provide coverage because it is not profitable for them to do so.
Consumer Awareness & Pricing Transparency
The discussion on consumer awareness centred on the need to educate Nigerian consumers to understand what they are getting for what they pay when it comes to broadband services, and how they can use the Internet to improve their lives. Oyebisi Oluseyi, head of the Nigeria Network of NGOs, argued that many consumers do not know what they are getting for their money (e.g., how many MBs it takes to stream a video or download an email). Additionally, mobile operators are not sufficiently transparent about the terms and conditions of their marketing promotions, leading to consumers being surprised and angry with charges on their phone bills. Most coalition members agreed that the responsibility to raise awareness should not lie solely with companies and the NCC, but also with customers, who should work to educate themselves and assert their consumer rights when it comes to pricing transparency and quality of service.
Brainstorming Potential Solutions
By the end of the day, coalition members had drafted work plans for the next several months and the deliverables for which each respective working group would be responsible.
Some of these proposals included:
- Incentivising “Smart State” and “Smart City” models, where taxes and other costs for deploying new infrastructure would be waived or reduced in certain Nigerian states and cities in order to encourage investment
- Making it easier and cheaper for entrepreneurs to use spectrum by, for example, allowing multiple users to share one licence in one town
- Developing an NCC-administered public website that publishes clear and transparent information about opt-out options for promotions/ads and the cost of data
- A regulation that requires mobile operators to provide regular notices to customers about their data usage and roaming costs
In the coming months, A4AI will be facilitating additional working sessions for the coalition’s working groups to refine some of these ideas and develop them into concrete proposals and deliverables to contribute to policy decisions and implementation.
On July 15, coalition members also had the opportunity to participate in two workshops in which the topics of Spectrum Efficiency in Nigeria and Consumer Awareness of the Internet were explored in-depth—the outcomes of these workshops will be examined in a future blog post.
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