How to Transform a Nation with Broadband?

Mrs Omobolaji JohnsonI am compelled to publish the Nigeria’s Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson’s keynote address at the inaugural Telecoms Stakeholders’ Summit, which took place in Lagos on 17th of December, 2013 for two reasons.

One, she told us stories of how lives have been transformed by the presence of very limited broadband infrastructure in Nigeria. Two, she enthused on how increase in broadband penetration by 2017- from 6% to 30% can deliver through broadband, a phenomenal 3% increase in GDP.

Her words………A newly married young lady’s husband complements her on her delicious stews and friends start to offer her money to cook for them in measured containers. Someone suggests she advertises on the internet-in a few months she is earning a good income from selling stews in containers-from no job a few months back

A young man is tired of pounding the pavement and writing hundreds of CVs looking for a corporate job-he has no contacts, no Minister aunty or uncle to fix him up. He is browsing the internet, takes an interest in film production, learns how to use a movie camera over the internet and today he is not only making movies but is teaching other people how to use cameras and produce movies.

A young woman in a rural area is pregnant with her first child-pregnancy is not an illness she is told by the older women in the village so stop being lazy and get to work. She knows there is something wrong- SMS messages and information on her second trimester sent to her on her mobile phone tells her that there is something wrong. She sees her health worker and her baby is saved.

A farmer toiling the ground for many years hasn’t seen a farm extension worker in years to advise him on new and modern farming techniques that will improve his productivity and yield. He relies on a middle man to sell his produce and receives even less than the middle man as he cannot afford to make the trip to the market in the next town. Connectivity arrives in his village, his son in Lagos sends him a simple internet enabled phone, he receives extension advice from some of the highest offers for his produce via SMS-his life and that of his family is transformed.

Christmas was coming; it is now here, no presents, no food, Lagos traffic is chaotic. In the peace of her home, when all are asleep, a busy working mother buys presents online from Nigerian based ecommerce sites, sends a list of groceries to an online grocery shopping site-presents and food delivered the next day and a happy Christmas is had by all.

This is not fiction or day dreaming by a passionate Minister. These are real stories. I could go on and on about how lives have been transformed by the presence of broadband. When you transform lives you transform a nation and that is the power of broadband.

The often quoted statistic of a 10% increase in broadband penetration delivering a 1.3% increase in GDP is not an empty statistic.The examples I just gave are evidence that broadband can increase business productivity, can lead to the creation of new businesses and jobs, can save lives, can deliver much needed skills in a developing nation.

This is what makes up the GDP of a nation-and the most powerful and compelling pat of these stories is that this is GDP growth with jobs. Today the ICT sector contributes just over 8% to GDP- if we achieve our targets of a fivefold increase in broadband penetration by 2017- from 6% to 30%; we will deliver through broadband, a phenomenal 3% increase in GDP.

The National Broadband Strategy and Roadmap articulates how we will deliver these broadband targets local government by local government and state by state.

I am glad that state governors who will host the ICT infrastructure that will deliver broadband are featured strongly at this event. We cannot build this infrastructure without their support and partnership and I am delighted by the support we are getting from the three state governors here today.

However, the truth be told, this is a classic case of enlightened self -interest. Allowing infrastructure to be built quickly and cost effectively in their states delivers all the benefits I just outlined above. The states are more competitive, businesses thrive, and tax revenue and other IGR to develop the state grows.

A school in a semi urban part of the country is unable to attract high quality maths and science teachers. PCs, broadband and digital content is delivered to the school through the Universal Service Provision fund. An experienced science teacher in a nearby state offers to have her classes filmed and live streamed. What is learnt in class is complemented by smart mobile apps developed by young Nigerians to test proficiency in science and other subjects. WAEC and NECO pass rates soar

The privatisation of the telecoms industry in Nigeria is a reference point on how to successfully liberalise an industry- clear and consistent government policy, strong and effective regulation and an enabling environment for the private sector to make the necessary investments.

The demand on existing infrastructure has reached breaking point because the private sector is not investing quickly enough.

While the Ministry of Communication Technology will continue to work to remove all obstacles to the build out of this infrastructure, we expect our MNOs and infrastructure providers to seek innovative and creative ways to accelerate roll out-partnering with state governments on right of way, co- location, hybrid or solar powered base stations, intelligent network planning. This appears not to be the case. As a responsible government and an effective regulator, we must intervene.

The industry will be restructured to prioritise infrastructure roll out over delivering more services on an already overloaded network, regulatory fines will be imposed, subscriber expansion will be curbed and customer redress will be sought until supply meets demand.

We expect that these actions will send a clear and unequivocal message to the telecoms industry-get your act together or else……

As we close this year and start another year. The Ministry of Communication Technology looks forward to working with mobile network operators, infrastructure providers, state and local governments and federal Ministries departments and agencies to deliver a broadband rich data nation that will in turn deliver the aspirational transformation agenda of his Excellency President GoodluckEbele Jonathan.