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World Bank: Nigeria Needs $3bn To Achieve 85,000km Fibre Connectivity

It said Nigeria can become a hub for export of digital skills.

The World Bank has said that Nigeria requires between $2 billion and $3 billion to achieve additional 85,000 kilometres broadband penetration over the next three years.

The World Bank’s Regional Director (Infrastructure), West and Central Africa, Mr Franz Drees-Gross stated this during an interview with journalists at a stakeholders meeting held in Abuja on Tuesday.

The meeting with the theme “Broadband for All” was designed to source for funding to  actualise the government’s plan of achieving 120,000 Kilometres of optic fibre connectivity in Nigeria within the next three years.

Drees-Gross said the Nigerian government planned to raise funds to achieve the remaining 95,000 kilometres of fibre optic to take it up to the needed 120,000 kilometres.

“They plan to set up a digital national broadband fund and to roll out about 95,000 kilometres of what we call middle mile cable. So that’s the terrestrial cable in the territory of Nigeria to bring broadband to more parts of the country. Right now, I think Nigeria has about 35,000 kilometres of broadband cable.

“The idea is to add another 85,000 kilometres on top of that and what we are discussing with the government is, what’s the best way to finance that? How could you set that up?

“How could you release some of the funding that’s available in the country using perhaps a Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), and other instruments? And how can the World Bank provide technical assistance and if needed, perhaps some financing for that? He said.

He added that rolling out fibre was just part of the problem, stressing that what is needed is for the fibre to bring low cost digital access all over the country and so that people have the wherewithal to get online and to use it effectively and then generate digital content.

According to him, Nigeria can become a hub for export of digital skills, noting that  Nigeria has a very impressive digital ecosystem, especially in Lagos.

He also noted that it was not just all about making broadband available but making it available and affordable.

“About 80 percent of the population in West and Central Africa lives within range of a 4G signal 80 percent. But only about 40 per cent actually connected to digital broadband.

” So what explains the difference? Why is it that those 40 per cent live within reach of the signal and they don’t connect? The first issue is cost. The cost of a data package, the basic data package exceeds what households can pay for.

“Then, there’s device affordability. You want to get a mobile device, that’s intranet ready, that can get you online. The second thing is, even if people get online, sometimes they say, well, I don’t see content that’s relevant to me; relevant to what I want to know.

“And that’s where that digital ecosystem in Nigeria comes in. You want an ecosystem that generates the digital content that people want to access; you need public services digitised.

“I mean, Nigeria could be an exporter of digital services, just like you’re an exporter of Nollywood. I mean, everybody watch Nigerian movies. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be using digital content, digital services and digital products produced in Nigeria,” he explained.

He also said that Nigeria can export optic fibre to other West African countries, explaining that the country has got eight fibre optic cables, submarine cables that land in Nigeria.

“If you had a domestic cable network that reach everywhere, you could also be exporting some of that capacity to your neighbours. So that would give you more volume on your own terrestrial fibre optic backbone network,” he said.

In his remarks, the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani said it was necessary to have a stakeholders engagement to find ways of financing the national broadband plan.

“We are here with critical stakeholders on how to attract investments and fund our broadband infrastructures. I’m sure everybody that is listening to me probably understands that now we cannot do without technology on internet, so we all need quality access regardless of our location.

“There’s a need for us to invest in that databank. So it’s the kind of thing that we call the telecommunications infrastructure, or in some cases, we call the fibre optic cables. So there’s actually a cable that helps us make it possible for internet to happen,” he said.

The minister noted that about 120,000 kilometres of fiber optic cables would be required for Nigerians to have quality and efficient access to the internet and other digital services irrespective of their locations.

He said in terms of financing, the country would require about $3 billion to fix the infrastructure, stating that through the World Bank and other development finance institutions and the private sector, there is hope that the funds would be raised within the next two or three years.

The Chairman of Phase 3 Telecoms, Stanley Jegede, who spoke on behalf of the service providers said it was a welcome development that the government is working on how to provide funds for service providers to serve the underserved in the country.

“What we’ve experienced in the last few years in this sector is difficulty going to unserved parts of the country or certain parts of the country, because it isn’t commercially viable.

“We the operators have invested so much and we want to make returns on investment. So, if the government is supporting, like all the governments of focused countries have done to raise either grants, equity or loans to support the infrastructure directly, we are excited about it,” Jegede said.

Oghenevwede Ohwovoriole

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