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Robust Digital Ecosystem: NCC Makes Case for Innovative Public-Private Partnership Approach

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Public-Private Partnership

The Executive Vice Chairman, EVC, and Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has said the role of public-private partnership, PPP, in infrastructure development in Nigeria as well as building a robust digital ecosystem cannot be over emphasised.

The EVC also reiterated that the Commission is committed to continuously engaging relevant stakeholders, both in the public and private sectors, in the country and beyond, to ensure that appropriate infrastructure befitting a modern digital economic system is available in the country.

This is as the Nigerian government through the Galaxy Backbone Limited has revealed a move to boost data domestication and sovereignty in the country.

The government said it has entered a partnership with a tech company have to provide seamless cloud edge services to Nigerians.

Danbatta, who harped on the importance of Public-Private Partnership (PPP), said the commission had in November 2020 created a ‘PPP Unit’ as a division under its Special Duties Department. He said the unit oversees the implementation of the NCC’s revenue assurance solutions (RAS) as well as the DMS project.

The NCC boss pointed out that an adequate, robust and functioning infrastructure is the bedrock of communal and societal development. This would help deepen the government’s determination and commitment to total digital transformation of services and its ecosystem in the country.

The NCC boss was the keynote speaker at a panel session during a two-day 2021 virtual conference and exhibition on Information Communication Technology and Telecommunications, ICTEL, organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI.

The theme of the event is ‘Disruptions, Resilience and Governance in Digital Economy’ but the EVC spoke on the sub-theme, ‘Exploring Public-Private Collaboration for a Robust Digital Infrastructure, Regulations, Investment and Policy.’

He examined how the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), can be leveraged to develop resilient infrastructure that will advance Nigeria’s digital ecosystem.

The EVC also reflected on how the country can effectively implement regulations and policies as well as create an enduring collaboration between the private and public sectors for the development of our digital ecosystem.

He noted that the concept of Public PPP has become one of the commonly used models of collaboration among stakeholders to fast-track socio-economic development whether at the global, regional and national levels.

According to him, there is no gainsaying the fact that the next frontier for enriching the digital economy globally, is through sustained investment in broadband or high-speed Internet access.

Speaking of the challenges affecting the quality of telecom services and by extension the Quality of Experience (QoE) of telecom consumers, Danbatta urged stakeholders to suggest better and more innovative PPP approaches that may be explored by the government towards making our telecoms infrastructure safer, more resilient, more robust, and how we may attract more investment into the sector.

The NCC boss recalled that In April 2017, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) signed a Joint Declaration in Geneva, ‘on the advancement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular industrialization, infrastructure development and innovation.”

He said that the UNIDO and ITU, driving innovation in ICT together with 193 Member States and over 700 private sector entities and academic institutional membership, planned to strengthen country-level collaborations.

“The two agencies resolved to contribute to global, regional and national efforts toward achieving SDG9, and particularly through action plans that are designed to attract public-private partnerships and investment,” he said.

“The collaboration between ITU and UNIDO, thus, represents a very important commitment from global organisations to deliver measurable and sustainable solutions within countries, towards achieving the SDGs, with a focus on ‘infrastructure, industry and innovation,’ through a PPP arrangement. It is on record that this kind of partnership is helping to fast track the realization of SDG9 with derivable quantifiable benefits to industry, including small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging economies.

“Similarly, it is particularly of interest that the African Development Bank (AfDB), in a White Paper on PPP Framework released in September 2020, was emphatic that the infrastructure gap in African countries acts as an impediment to their economic growth and development.

“According to the White Paper, the gaps impact not only the economic situation of the citizens of Africa but also the countries’ global competitiveness. The paper also estimates that poor infrastructure shaves off 2% of the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates.

“Suffice it to say that, the role of public-private partnership in infrastructure development in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised because a n adequate, robust and functioning infrastructure is the bedrock of communal and societal development.

“Therefore, to meet future challenges, our industries and infrastructure must be upgraded by evolving an enduring PPP model that services all the sectors of the economy. Objectively, the high level of infrastructure deficit and its attendant effect on socio-economic development in Nigeria explains the government’s concern and search for an alternative means of providing infrastructure for Nigeria’s teeming population and its digital ecosystem.

Thus, in 2005, the Federal Government established the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) with a clear objective to accelerate investment in national infrastructure through private sector funding; and to assist the Federal Government of Nigeria and its Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to establish and implement effective Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) processes. It is gratifying that state governments have also adopted variants of PPP models to tackle the challenge of infrastructure in their respective jurisdictions.

In Nigeria, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is particularly noted for its faith in strategic collaboration and partnership as a central principle of its stakeholders’ relationship management and regulatory activities. Our daily regulatory processes are marked by consultations with a wide spectra of stakeholders as well as strategic partnering and collaboration with both private sector players and other sister public sector organisations.

Following the liberalisation of the telecoms sector in 2001, the Commission has continued to facilitate investment inflow into the country’s digital space through licensing of many private sector players, who are deploying services in a different segment of the nation’s telecom market. This has resulted in the rollout of massive infrastructure ranging from the deployment of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) and laying off thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cables to every nooks and cranny of the country. Hence, the sector has grown significantly in investment with significant access to an array of voice, data and other kinds of enterprises.

The Commission has also continued to enhance existing infrastructure through the licensing of a category of private sector players known as Infrastructure Companies (InfraCo), who are to deploy fibre optic cable on a wholesale basis across the country with broadband Point of Access (PoA) in each of the 774 Local Government Areas of the country. This InfraCo scheme is running on a PPP arrangement, where the government provides a counterpart fund as a subsidy to stimulate faster, more robust and resilient broadband infrastructure rollout across the country.

Danbatta noted that while broadband penetration in Nigeria has reached 45% at the moment, from less than 6% in 2015, there still exist access gaps which the Commission is making efforts to bridge.

He said it is noteworthy that the hitherto existing access gaps of 217 identified in the country have been reduced to 114 through increased collaboration between the Commission and stakeholders in the telecom ecosystem.

“Hence, the InfraCo project being implemented by NCC and other similar regulatory initiatives which have PPP component is in line with policy expectations of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020-2025; the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) 2020-2030; the NCC Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024, as well as several regulatory instruments and frameworks which envisioned the PPP model as a central organising principle for fast-tracking the development of Nigeria’s telecoms industry,” he added.

“Besides, the NCC is renowned for its tradition of engaging in robust stakeholder consultation on the development of its various regulations and policy initiatives. The Commission consistently engages private sector organisations, in a clear expression of its PPP philosophy, to carry out specific tasks, notably, in carrying out cost-based studies, whose outcomes have been used by the Commission to improve regulations and policy decisions that have far-reaching positive implications on the economy and its digital ecosystem.

“The Commission has also engaged in several PPP engagement through such initiatives as Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), a multi-sectoral committee of private and public sector institutions whose collaboration with the Commission has bolstered Commission’s determination to continually improve on all principles of protection of telecoms consumers from an array of service challenges as well as incidences of frauds and other associated risks of online transactions.

The NCC boss said that in November 2020, the Commission created a ‘PPP Unit’ as a division under its Special Duties Department to oversee the implementation of its revenue assurance solutions (RAS) as well as the Device Management System (DMS) project which are being implemented in collaboration with private sector players.

He noted, however, that despite the various PPP interventions being undertaken by the government and similar initiatives at the Commission, several challenges persist in the telecom ecosystem.

“These include multiple taxation and regulation, Right of Way (RoW) issue, vandalism, poor electricity supply, and lately worsening insecurity. All of these factors affect both the tempo and quality of infrastructure rollout by the private sector licensees, who are the main engine of growth in the telecom sector. These challenges also affect the quality of telecom services and by extension the Quality of Experience (QoE) of telecom consumers.”

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of Galaxy Backbone, Prof. Muhammed Abubakar, who spoke during a webinar session titled, ‘Cloud Service and the journey towards digital Economy’ in Abuja held on Tuesday, stated that the agency is committed to customer service and the delivery of quality services to Nigerians.

“We are very confident that through the service we have put together with ZADARA today, we assure you we will deliver on your cloud services needs.

“Galaxy Backbone has achieved quite a lot since its inception in 2006. Providing and deploring the infrastructure for connectivity and cloud services is what we do so well”, he said.

Earlier the Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Abdullahi Kashifu in his Keynote Address said cloud services currently cost about $270 billion in 2020 and it is expected to increase by 23.1% per cent this year.

He explained that cloud services will bring about reduced Information Technology costs; scalability; flexibility; better security; and less time to market.

“Therefore, it is imperative to understand that enterprises and organisations depend on the effective use of cloud technology to enhance existing business processes and deploy new business value propositions in and post COVID eras”, he said.

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