Interview: We’re making progress in Broadband deployment but States, LGs crippling telcos with multiple taxation, says Danbatta
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta, recently in Busan, South Korea spoke with International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Media Unit. Our correspondent, Theresa Igata, monitored the interview. Excerpts.
National Broadband plan, Latest progress
The National Broadband Plan 2013-2018 mandated the NCC to supervise the deployment of broadband across the whole country and we’re also mandated to ensure we attain 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018.
According to the figures released by the ITU/UNESCO commission for sustainable development, we’re at 22 per cent, so we have 8 percentage points to go. It’s no looking like a tall order, but to meet the target of 30 per cent we still need to deploy more infrastructures across the country, and it is for this reason that the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, supervises the deployment of broadband infrastructure in 7 zones of the country. Each zone has been assigned an infrastructure company to deploy broadband infrastructure.
We have in the first phase of this exercise licensed 2 zones; Lagos which is our ICT hub in the country and the North Central where the capital of the country is located. With this we have 5 more zones to license.
There are 3 zones in the Southern part of the country; South East, South West and South South and then 2 more zones in the Northern part of the country; North West and North East. With respect to broadband we don’t have any problem with that because all the available broadband that is needed to ensure penetration takes place we have since signed the spectrum to interested operators, so the commission as I’m speaking to you does not have any more spectrum to assign with a view to achieving the target.
What we needed to assign to ensure the attainment of the target has been done. What remains to be done is the broadband infrastructure. The interesting thing about this deployment is that it’s going to be done consistent with PPP initiative and there’s even a subsidy component attached to the Infraco licensing condition. The Commission will be there to monitor guided deployment because we know where the gaps are in the country- we’re ready for this exercise. We’re interested in ensuring we attain our target by 2018.
The Commission to that extent has established a broadband implementation monitoring committee to ensure guided deployment- where we have gaps; what we call broadband fibre gaps in the country and as soon as the exercise of assigning all the licenses are completed we will move into action to ensure we monitor the deployment and release the subsidies consistent with the milestones.
Challenges to broadband deployment
One of the major challenges is right-of-way. We have a document and this document came about when the National Economic Council, under the chairmanship of the Vice President, met and agreed on regime of taxes to be charged in the process of deploy of ICT infrastructure across the country; this is what we call harmonising the regime of taxes. But unfortunately, signatories to this document are not respecting the provisions of the document. We have States and Local governments charging prohibitive amounts for deployment of fibre. We have wilful damage to existing broadband infrastructure- wilful unintended during road constructions and this is setting us back even as we try to deploy more, what has already been deployed on the ground is being subjected to all kinds of destruction.
Another major challenge is the scarcity of Foreign Exchange; when we want FX that is necessary to import equipment like the fibre. Though fibre is cheap; it is cheaper compared to the amount of money you pay to dig trenches for the fibre. These are the challenges that we have to contend with but we’re not discouraged by them. We will engage governments at all levels to ensure that we sensitise them on the importance of embracing this project for the country because in the final analysis when you compare the benefits of broadband services when eventually these are rolled out to the limited benefits you get from taxes. You can decide which one outweighs the other.
Obviously when you have broadband services being rolled out to citizens you get more revenue compared to the limited amount you get on informal taxes from telecommunications companies and those who want to deploy more broadband infrastructure.
The policies of government are no limited to broadband but they’re relevant to broadband. Recently the Federal Government introduced the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan and there’s an important role assigned to the NCC, to ensure deployment of broadband infrastructure and the attraction of those provisions of the plan is that you have incentives to come in, including 30 per cent in company income tax plus a list of other incentives, waivers for income duties for importation of the infrastructure equipment.
We have been informing the investors at this important forum about all these incentives by the Nigerian government as well as the ease of doing business. There’s an executive order as I’m talking with you, on transparency and transparency in public service delivery and this is intended to ensure that wavers are granted without delay, even disciplinary measures that can be brought to bear on agencies of government deliberately refusing to grant approval; the access to agencies like the NCC by investors to the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council is easily facilitated and we have a one stop shop where you can obtain all these items of information. This is verifiable and we’re waiting for investors to come in to join us on a public partnership basis to ensure we attain our target.
Value of attending the ITU conference
It is important to attend events like the ITU and Nigeria has been doing this for long. There’s a reason why we attach so much importance to attending this event. This first is for us to be able to learn from global best practises so that we can bring this to bear in our country, to solve contentious problems that conspire to degrade QoS, RoW issues etc. We also learn from what policies other countries have in place which we think we can either bring in total to implement in our country or modify to adopt the peculiarities in our country.
The benefits are immense and like you know, we come with our SMEs; last year we came with 8 and this year we came with 6, two short but what innovative ideas they have put together that they have showcased in this event have generated a lot of attention and interest. We will continue to put premium on attendance at this event because we feel it is an important way of showcasing our achievements in the sector and getting ideas on how best we can move the telecommunications sector in the country forward.