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No quick fix to Nigeria’s internet problems

23 April 2013, 14:22Henry Ifeanyi

Lagos  – Some three years after the introduction of improved telecommunication infrastructure, Nigerians are still grappling with the high cost of accessing the internet and telephone services while internet speed is inordinately slow.

Although there are four active undersea cable systems providing broadband services to the country, consumers are apprehensive about their impact in the short term.

The four submarine cables in the country carry a significant capacity available to drive bandwidth dependent services.

Despite this huge capacity, investigations reveal that most Nigerians still pay exorbitant charges to access the internet and make calls.

Across most of the telecommunication services providers in the country, 500 megabyte of data currently costs over US$15 while call rates have still not showed any significant reduction.

So far the only discernible benefits from the entry of MainOne, WACS and the two other marine cable companies into the industry is the availability of sufficient broadband in the major cities of Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.

Over 65 percent of the rural and suburban population is yet to derive any benefit from the services provided by the telecoms data service operators.

There is apparently need for more than 30,000 kilometres of domestic fibre optic cables to connect at least 50% of the Nigerian population to the international network.

This has inhibited access for most Nigerian schools, hospitals, government agencies, young professionals and small and medium businesses to the system.

Ben Okafor, Cybercafe owner in Lagos, told CAJ that as much as the arrival of the cable companies herald an era of positive development in the Nigerian telecoms sector, he is yet to start reaping the benefits.

Okafor said that for now there is still a disconnect between the availability of the benefits of much talked about marine cables and what the telecoms companies actually provide.

"We were all excited by the news of the telecoms cable companies coming into the country to provide improved services. Its three years now and we are still waiting to feel the effect of their service. We hope they will sort out whatever problem they are having", he said.

Deolu Ogubanjo, president of the association of telecommunication subscribers in Nigeria, expressed his worry about the snail’s pace at which broadband services were being rolled out countrywide.

“It is a worrisome situation. We expected that by now, cost of Internet services and calls would have drastically reduced…Internet services are still expensive and even fluctuate while call rates are still high," he said

MainOne Chief Executive Officer Funke Opeke acknowledges the gap between availability and accessibility of broadband in the country.

Opeke attributed this to some peculiar challenges which she says include a lack of proper policy guidelines.

“MainOne has actually had an impact and made a significant contribution to broadband access in the country although we have not done as much as we would have liked, due to some challenges.

"We are still facing the issue of last minute deployments to enable people to have ubiquitous access. We have boosted the broadband lives of people in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos at great cost," she said.

The cost of moving internet traffic from Lagos to Abuja, according to Opeke, is four times higher than the cost of moving the same level of traffic from Lagos to London. This is because operators with huge fibre infrastructure have not embraced infrastructure sharing.

Opeke however re-emphasised that the vision of MainOne is to see that at least schools, health sector and even all local government institutions are wired and connected to receive broadband.

Confirming the challenges being experienced in effectively deploying WACS services across the country, Chief Enterprise Solutions Officer of MTN Nigeria, Babatunde Osho, told our correspondent that his company is making serious effort to engage government and regulatory agencies to fix the problem.

”We are looking at both regulatory and legislative interventions before the benefit of broadband would trickle down to the remotest parts of the country. We are engaging both the regulator and the National Assembly.

"We are asking the government to open up the landscape in order to make carrying service to the consumer so expensive. Right now, we are moving into Warri and other places but it costs us a lot to extend services to these places.

"If we get the government to open up the landscape more, we may be able to do more," Osho said.

Worried by the poor broadband penetration in the country, President Goodluck Jonathan recently inaugurated a 15-member committee to articulate acceptable definitions and perspectives of broadband and related issues for Nigeria.

- CAJ News


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