Danbatta: Transforming Nigeria’s broadband landscape in three years

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By Yakubu Musa

That broadband is now globally acclaimed as the major index of development in all aspects of human life is no an exaggeration. It’s, according to the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development the nervous system of today’s civilization, and its access is top priority for our technologically society. There’s no gainsaying, therefore, the aspiration of many a nation today is to deploy available human and material resources to attain broadband success.

It’s on this premise that we can surmise strategic importance and profound impact inherent in the recent indices of Nigeria’s broadband giant strides. Nigeria attained 30.9% broadband penetration as at November 2018. What this connotes is that, a total of 58,965,478 were connected to the internet through 3G and 4G networks out of 108,457,051 internet subscribers in the nation’s telecom networks. The figures rose in December to 60, 087,199, taking the penetration depth to 31.48%.

To put it into perspective, the penetration figures stood at 8.5 % in 2015 when the erudite professor-regulator of the Nigerian telecom industry, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

However, the notable happy-ending story is also a story of diligent implementation of a comprehensive roadmap, popularly known as 8-Point Agenda, which the professor of telecommunications unveiled just few months into his new assignment. It’s not for nothing, therefore, broadband was deliberately made its flagship, and thus occupies its front burner.

If Danbatta’s blueprint was, however, globally acclaimed for its completeness and integrated nature, his approach also reveals a leader in tune with system model. Danbatta has always seen broadband particularly, as a function of an eco-system, not reductionist’s internet speed perspective.

The Nigeria Academy of Engineering (NAE), while inducting him a Fellow of the apex engineering body last year hinged its decision partly on Danbatta’s unparalleled work on Nigeria’s broadband, confirming that the rare success was not a work of alchemy.

” A landmark was also recorded by the Commission with the publication of Spectrum Trading Guidelines. The novelty attracted global commendations of international telecommunication organizations like GSMA.”

Indeed, apart from his quick action in setting up a crack team of broadband implementation early, Danbatta has undoubtedly succeeded in ushering in an unprecedented regime of efficient management of scarce resource, spectrum.

From successful auction of six slots of 2x5MHz in the 2.6 GHz Band, to re-planning of the 800 MHz band for LTE, and to assigning of 2×10 MHz Spectrum to Glomobile for trial in the 700 MHz, the frenzy of activities is unmistakable.

And from regularization of 2×10 MHz Spectrum in the 700 MHz band previously assigned to MTN by NBC for the purpose of providing LTE services, to opening up 70/80 GHz band for both last mile and backhaul services, among other numerous spectrum managements, the impacts cannot be gainsaid.

While the list is, by no means, exhaustive, a landmark was also recorded by the Commission with the publication of Spectrum Trading Guidelines. The novelty attracted global commendations of international telecommunication organizations like GSMA.

Yet even more pertinent to our broadband is the fact that 6 infrastructure companies (Infracos) have been licensed to drive the deployment of infrastructure across the nation’s geographical zones and Lagos—while the remaining one (for North Central) is being processed. This, no do doubt, bodes well for the future of the industry.

Nonetheless, while there was a special emphasis on ensuring Nigeria met its 30% target on broadband penetration, no item on Dabatta’s 8-Point Agenda has not brought something worth noting to the industry table.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable feats of his leadership was dedicating the year 2017 as the Year of the Consumer of the industry.

When the campaign was flagged off, for instance, less than 500 subscribers had activated the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb code developed by the commission in 2016 to tackle the menace of unsolicited telemarketing. Yet as at 31st October 2018, no fewer than 16.5 million have activated the Do-Not-Disturb and counting. The commission’s second layer complaint toll free line, 622 has also become a beehive of activities.

"Nigeria attained 30.9% broadband penetration as at November 2018... the penetration figures stood at 8.5 % in 2015 when ... Professor Umar Garba Danbatta was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari."
“Nigeria attained 30.9% broadband penetration as at November 2018… the penetration figures stood at 8.5 % in 2015 when … Professor Umar Garba Danbatta was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari.”

In similar vein, the commission has also issued a direction to service providers on Data Roll-Over, enabling consumers to roll over unused data for period of time, ranging from 1 day to 7 days, depending on the data plan, among other consumer- centric directives.

Again, another portion of the agenda that stood out was how Danbatta revolutionize stakeholder engagement of the agency. From Ogun State where he used his clout to ensure 47 base stations were immediately unsealed by Governor Ibikunle Amosun to Kano State where over N200 million was waived on levies—to Kogi State recently where 120 base station sites were reopened—Danbatta’s amazing energy and proactive strategy are in display.

In the area of strategic collaboration, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Danbatta and Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, with a view to boosting mobile money service penetration and financial inclusion in the country has also struck a chord. With this development, there’s permeating optimism that the country will be able to deepen the inclusion to 80% by 2020.

Nonetheless, the interagency partnership between the two giant regulators bore another fruit in 2018, saving a major service provider, 9mobile, from imminent collapse.

But as if he saw it coming, even before the debacle that led to the 9mobile takeover, the NCC under Danbatta had already made its Code of Corporate Governance for the telecoms industry mandatory.

Yet if the unmatched success in broadband penetration, and consumer-centric initiatives of Danbatta era are some of the standouts, it’s safe to assume that the synergy with academia to boost telecommunications researches is the unsung hero. It’s to his credit that a new department of Research and Development, has been carved with significant increase in funding.

However, while the space won’t permit touching on some of the most notable accomplishments of Prof Danbatta as the NCC boss, one thing is clear, his surefooted start by taking some tough decisions, has helped to carve, for him, an immediate industry niche. Indeed mixing a no-nonsense reputation with so much flexibility is one of the major hallmarks of Danbatta’s leadership.

The staff of the commission and the entire industry are consciously motivated by the fact that there’s a fair, firm and forthright chief regulatory officer who is leaving no stone unturned in his march to take the telecommunication industry to the next level.

Yakubu Musa is Special Assistant (Media) to EVC/CEO, NCC. He wrote from Abuja.

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