Recently the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson inaugurated the Presidential Broadband Council to undertake the implementation of the National Broadband Road-map, 2013-2017. In this report, CHIMA AKWAJA takes a look at the genesis of poor telecommunications vis-À-vis the billions of naira controlled by the Universal Service Provision Fund to enhance telecoms service delivery
Come August 7, 2013, it will be exactly 12 years since Nigeria commercially rolled out Global System of Mobile communications (GSM) services. Prior to that time, the telecommunications market was controlled by Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), a government owned telecommunications monopoly with some fragments of private telephone operators (PTOs) operating on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network with state and regional licences.
The Nigerian telecommunications changed with the deregulation of the sector which ushered in private sector participants starting from 1997 when the first PTOs launched GSM networks in August 2001. Till date, investments in the sector have largely been driven by the private sector participants despite a huge pool of funds levied the operating companies by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) noted should be deployed for universal service provision to unreached and underserved areas in each country.
These funds which run into hundreds of billions of naira have been charged operators by the regulator each year and deposited in the accounts of Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), an appendage of the NCC. A few days ago, USPF rated itself very poor for under utilising the funds at its disposal for expanding telephone and broadband internet across Nigeria.
Mr Abdulahi Maikano, secretary of USPF speaking at a focused industry roundtable in Lagos said the agency performed below expectation in its first five years (2007-2011) with most of its targets not met. USPF achieved 77 per cent of its Community Communications Centres (CCC) projects, 12 per cent of Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion BTS (AMPE-BTS) projects and 69 per cent of Accelerated Mobile Phone Expansion - Co-location Infrastructure project (AMPE-CIP) projects.
It also achieved just 16 per cent of Rural Broadband Initiative (RUBI) projects and 41 per cent of School Access Project (SAP) projects, among others. USPF had planned to build 299 community communications centres but built only 224. From 2007 to 2010, it intended to build 490 base transceiver stations. It awarded subsidies for 74 BTS. 62 of these have been implemented, while 12 are in progress, which represents 12 per cent of set targets.
According to Maikano, out of 1000 kilometres of backbone infrastructure project (BTRAIN) intended within that five year period, it only completed 500 km. USPF's School Access Project (SAP) had ambition for 1,858 schools but only achieved 41 per cent of its set targets in 774 government schools. While telecoms operators have built over 20,000 base stations since inception of liberalisation, USPF set a target of building 490 base stations. It awarded subsidies for 74 BTS, 62 of these where implemented, while 12 are in progress. This represents 12 per cent set targets.