Broadband Plan: Nigeria set to miss 70% target as implementation wobbles

Broadband Plan: Nigeria set to miss 70% target as implementation wobbles

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Nigeria is falling behind its ambitious goals to achieve 70% broadband penetration and improve internet access by 2025.While there has been progress in some areas like internet speed and data pricing, significant gaps remain in achieving other targets like 4G mobile subscriptions and smartphone affordability.The government is making last-minute efforts to improve connectivity through initiatives like Project 774 LG Connectivity and a plan to expand fiber optic cable coverage.

Nigeria is set to miss the 70% broadband penetration set in its National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, a development that could cause setbacks for the economy, especially in the area of digital transformation.

While the goal is for the country to connect at least 70% of its citizens to high-speed internet by 2025 through the implementation of several strategies highlighted in the Plan, only a little has been achieved in the last four years of the Plan.

According to data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) broadband penetration reached 43.53% of the population as of March 2024, a slight growth over 39.54% recorded as of April 2020, when the Plan was launched.

This means that the country has achieved about a 4% increase in penetration over the last four years, which makes the attainment of 70% by next year a difficult if not impossible task.

Mid-implementation targets already missed

Going by the timelines of the Plan, broadband penetration in the country is expected to be at 50% at the end of 2023. However, at the end of the year, penetration stood at 43.71% while it declined to 43.53% in March this year.

Recognizing the high cost of smartphones as one of the access barriers to broadband in the country, the Plan developed by key experts in the ICT industry appointed by the government, recommends that the country should have at least one smartphone assembly plant by 2023.This was to ensure the price of an entry-level smartphone in the country could be as low as N18,000.However, the country currently has no local smartphone assembly plant, while costs of smartphones in the country have skyrocketed as a result of the Naira devaluation. The cheapest smartphone in the market currently sells for about N65,000.According to the Plan, part of the milestones to measure progress include that 70% of telecom subscriptions should be on 4G by 2023. However, NCC’s data shows that only 32.74% of the 219 million active mobile subscriptions in the country were on 4G as of March 2024.Indeed, 56.97% of mobile subscriptions in Nigeria were still on 2G network as of March, according to NCC data.Sub targets achieved

Of all the milestones the country is expected to have achieved under the Plan by now, progress has been made in the area of internet speed. According to the Plan, internet speed in Nigeria is expected to have achieved 15Mbps download speed in the urban areas and 5Mbps in rural areas by 2023.

Going by the speed being delivered by some of the operators, especially with the launch of 5G by MTN and Airtel and the entry of Starlink, which is delivering over 50Mbps in both urban and rural areas, Nigeria may have surpassed its target in this area.

In terms of data pricing, whereas the Plan expects the price of a 1Gigabyte of data not to be more than N700 by 2023, some operators are currently selling the same for as low as N350 for a daily plan. However, the telecom operators are currently appealing to the telecom regulator to allow them to implement price increments.

Why the implementation is shaky

According to the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engineer Gbenga Adebayo, the implementation of the Plan has not been able to progress as it should because several challenges identified in the Plan have not been addressed.

He cited the issues of multiple taxation and high costs of the Right of Way as impediments to the deployment of infrastructure by the telecom operators.

While the Plan envisages that Nigeria would need investments of between $3.5 to $5 billion over five years to achieve full implementation, data indicates that foreign investments in the country’s telecoms sector have been declining.

In 2023, for instance, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that the telecommunications sector recorded a steep decline in Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in the year as capital importation plunged by 239%. The sector received a total of $134.75 million in 2023, a sharp decline compared with the $456.83 million recorded in 2022.

“The current investment figures are a clear indicator of the challenges facing the industry. This is adversely affecting the expansion of network infrastructure,” Adebayo said.

He added that apart from the reduction in investment, the limited access to foreign exchange is impeding the operators’ capability to expand and deploy more broadband infrastructure.

Last minute effortsIn what could be seen as last-minute efforts to ensure that the country meets its target in 2025, the Ministry of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy has in recent times rolled out some initiatives targeted at deepening connectivity in the country.One of such initiative is Project 774 LG Connectivity, an initiative designed to address limited internet and digital access by connecting all 774 Local Government secretariats across Nigeria to the internet.In addition, the government also recently announced plans to launch a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the delivery of an additional 90,000km of fiber optic cable to complement existing connectivity for universal access to the internet across Nigeria.According to the Communications Minister, Dr. Bosun Tijani, working with partners and stakeholders from the government and private sector, the SPV would build the additional fibre optic coverage required to take Nigeria’s connectivity backbone to a minimum of 125,000km, from the current coverage of about 35,000km.Follow us for Breaking News and Market Intelligence.

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