In the Nigerian settings where many government appointees abuse the chance given to them to part of the machinery of the state, Professor Umar Danbatta has proven to be effective and result driven in his first term as the executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Based on recommendations by the Dr Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and other keen industry observers,President Muhammadu Buhari has extended Danbatta’s stay in office for a second-term of five years to steer the affairs of the country’s highest telecoms regulator.
As the appointment was given a nod by the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday after a series of screening exercises, experts in the industry have had a recap discussion on some of the policies formulated by the Danbatta-led NCC management to further standardize telecoms regulation in the country to meet global best practices.
BusinessMetricsNG has highlighted five of such policies and initiatives that have given the sector an edge in the last five years with attendant improvement in quality of service (QoS) to better serve the mushrooming subscribers of telecoms services in the country.
Key Growth Statistics from 2015 till Date
From August 2015 till date, the industry has recorded impressive growth statistics, pointing to the effective regulatory environment created by the Commission. Today, telecoms contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) increased from 8.50 percent in August 2015 to 11.39 percent as at October, 2019. Active mobile voice subscribers increased from 151,018,624 to 2015 to 180,386,316 during the same period while teledensity increased to 94.50 percent following its rebasing in early 2019.
Internet subscribers increased from 90 million in 2015 to 123.5 million by October, 2019 while broadband penetration jumped from 8 percent to its current 37.87 percent, indicating a total of 72,289,389 Nigerian access data services on 3G and 4G networks.
Also, the number of subscriptions to Mobile Number Portability (MNP) service increased from 385, 617 in August 2015 to 1, 206,874 by October, 2019. This is attributable to increased public enlightenment by the Commission’s head office and its zonal offices across geo-political zones on the on the availability and usage of MNP. Similarly, the total number of telecoms subscribers that have subscribed either partially or fully to the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) service introduced by the Commission – to curb cases of unsolicited text messages – increased from level zero to 22,356, 919 currently.
Upward trajectory of broadband penetration
One of the areas where the Commission has made significant contribution till date is in the area of broadband penetration. Following painstaking implementation of the 8-Point Agenda, the country achieved and surpassed its broadband penetration target of 30 percent by the end of December, 2018 as stipulated in the National Broadband Plan 2013-2015. A feat commended by all stakeholders in the country, appreciating the Commission for occupying the driver’s seat in the national drive for broadband development. Indeed, the implementation of the auspicious Agenda gained a lot of traction such that broadband penetration further increased from 32.34 percent (indicating 61,732,130 Nigerians on 3G and 4G networks) to 37.87 percent (indicating 72,289,389 on 3G and 4G networks) between January, 2019 and October, 2019 respectively.
Cognate efforts by the NCC in licensing new spectrum bands, re-farming certain frequency bands and driving initiatives for increased broadband infrastructure in the country, among others have collaboratively resulted in the consistent broadband growth. With increase in broadband penetration being recorded on a monthly basis, the Commission is well positioned to support the actualisation of the country’s digital economy policy strategy, as unveiled by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy late 2019. Just recently, the new National Broadband Plan Committee was inaugurated by the Minister Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, with the national mandate to come up with the new broadband target for 2020-2025.
Since 2015, the NCC’s passion for pervasive broadband penetration is evident in its drive to facilitate broadband penetration, which tops its 8-Point Agenda. The Commission has also articulated it clearly, at different fora, that access to broadband will become a fundamental metric for measuring economic development in Nigeria, as it will be central to the growth recorded in every other sector of the economy where telecoms would be propelling automation and digitisation.
Speaking at a forum, Danbatta averred that Nigeria’s thirst for data has grown in significantly, largely to the generational change of telecommunications from the use of voice-dominated technologies (1G and 2G) to today’s data dominated technologies of 3G, 4G and even the much-talked-about 5G. According to him, without doubt, more virtualised engagements are happening online and will continue to be, as it does appears the citizens have an insatiable need for data.
“Nigerians need robust and pervasive broadband connectivity more than ever before in today’s world, where people can easily interact with an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), carry out activities around e-commerce, e-government, and telemedicine, among others on a daily basis in a much seamless manner, thereby boosting their efficiencies,” Danbatta had said.
Rural Connectivity with TVWS Technology
Further to the strategic implementation of its 8-Point Agenda, the Commission has partnered with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and other necessary industry stakeholders to brainstorm on how to develop a framework for leveraging television white spaces (TVWS), as technology platform to extend affordable broadband services to rural, unserved and under-served communities in the country.
TVWS is the unused broadcast spectrum which can be deployed in the telecommunications sector to provide cost-effective broadband services to people in the rural, underserved and unserved areas of the country towards achieving universal access and universal service in line with the country’s digital agenda. The collaboration with the NBC was in line with the fifth pillar of the NCC’s 8-Poing Agenda focusing on facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership with necessary government agencies and stakeholders to drive the development frontiers of the industry.
The initiative for the use of TVWS in Nigeria was mid-wifed by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, following approval for the use of the TVWS technology by the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC). TVWS deployment is expected to further enable the NCC to facilitate its mandate to ensure universal access to digital services across the nooks and crannies of the country.
“Ensuring that all Nigerians are connected is our priority at the Commission. “We are continuously in a quest to achieving rural connectivity goal and this quest has led us, as a Commission, into embarking on several initiatives to actualise this pervasive connectivity objective in Nigeria,” said Austine Nwaulune, Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC said during a stakeholders’ forum on framework for the deployment of TVWS held earlier in 2019.
Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure across 774 LGAs
Closely related to the Commission’s efforts in deepening broadband penetration is its development of Open Access Model (OAM) initiative, principally aimed at extending access to digital services to all the 774 local government areas (LGAs) through the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) across geo-political zones.
To date, six InfraCo licences had been issued by the Commission. They include Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South Zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West Zone; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West Zone; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East Zone; MainOne Limited for Lagos Zone and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East Zone. The seventh and last licensee for the North-Central Zone of the country is being processed by the Commission.
As Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, the NCC is expected to provide a counterpart funding, in form of stimulus, to encourage investors of InfraCo to deploy fibre optic infrastructure across the country. Already, subsidy negotiations with the licensees had been concluded by the Commission and efforts are being tidied up by the telecoms regulator to secure Federal Government’s approval for the disbursement of the counterpart funding to the licensees. This, however, will be disbursed to the InfraCos upon attainment of certain milestones in their area of deployment.
During a visit by the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) to the Commission earlier in 2019, Danbatta had said that, “NCC had concluded the process leading to the disbursement of subsidies to the six licensed InfraCos in line with the digital transformation agenda of the Federal Government. The subsidy will augment the InfraCos’ capital expenditure (CAPEX).”
Spectrum Auctions and Related Initiatives
One aspect of the Commission’s regulatory activities which has added the needed fillip to its accomplishment with regards to broadband penetration is in the area of effective utilization of available spectrum. Apart from achieving and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration, the NCC had recorded some broadband-driving successes, especially in the area of spectrum auctions. These include the auction of the six slots of 2×5 megahertz (MHz) in the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) Band, re-planning of the 800 MHz band for Long Term Evolution (LTE), licensing of two slots of 10 MHz each in the 700 MHz band, as well as the opening up of the E-band spectrum 70/80 GHz band for both last-mile and backhaul services. Other regulatory instruments by the Commission in this regards include the Spectrum Trading Framework, which allows for transferability of spectrum licence from a dormant licensee to another operator that needs such spectrum which has been redundant for the deployment telecom services.
All these efforts are in keeping with the commitment of the Commission, as articulated by Danbatta early in 2015 that “NCC will develop and implement flexible, market-oriented spectrum regulatory policies that promote highly-efficient use of spectrum in ways that stimulate innovation, investment, and job creation and increased consumer benefits.”
Commitment to ICT Innovations in Telecoms Industry
In line with its commitment to promoting innovation to drive digital transformation, the NCC, in 2016, created its Research and Development (R&D) Department for the Commission in 2016, for the main purpose of synchronising the various ongoing research activities and other development projects being carried out by the Commission. This decision, which was in line with the provisions of the National Telecommunications Policy 2000 and the Nigerian National ICT Policy 2012, has helped the Commission to stimulate and sustain innovations in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry.
Till date, the Commission had disbursed millions of Naira, in grants, to sponsor innovation-oriented research projects in tertiary institutions and other research institutes across the country. Further to this tradition of driving ICT innovations through funding relevant researches in tertiary institutions, the Commission, in May 2019, announced N40 million endowment funds for Bayero University, Kano (BUK) and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). The funds would be utilised by the institutions to drive for innovation, research and development in the digital space with an ongoing commitment to expand the list of benefiting institutions.
A month after, precisely in June 2019, the Commission, again, demonstrated its determination to facilitating research and innovation in the telecoms industry by presenting the sum of N65 million to eleven (11) universities in Nigeria to drive innovation, research and development. Through the funding, the benefitting tertiary institutions were expected “to deliver research results and prototypes that are implementable, commercially-viable and capable of engendering innovation in different sectors of the economy.”