Telecoms body lists challenges of rural connectivity

mast-telecommunication
• Urges telcos to upgrade 2G network sites to 3G/4G, invest in alternative power

United Nation’s arm in charge of global telecommunications, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is worried that rural and remote areas of many countries worldwide continue to be sparsely covered in terms of broadband connectivity.

ITU said major challenges for rural and remote area connectivity include inadequate supporting infrastructure, difficult terrain, illiteracy, high cost of installation of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, and policy issues. With these challenges, rural and remote areas including those in Nigeria are often not considered viable business cases by telecommunication operators.

In Nigeria today, broadband penetration is put at 39.5 per cent with some 75 million of the over 200 million having access to the facility, which largely resides in the urban areas. But in an effort targeted at improving connectivity and spur business growths in Ekiti, the State Government has budgeted N5billion for broadband infrastructure.

The Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, through his Twitter handle @ekitistategov, announced the plan at the weekend. He had signed an MoU with O’odua Infraco Resources Limited, which is to 606km broadband infrastructure in the state, to be ready by 2021.

However, the ITU noted that the recent growth of teledensity in urban areas, fuelled by mobile technology, has meant that the already existing digital gap between rural and urban areas has now widened.

In its latest study, the UN body recommended ways that regulators, policymakers and operators can change that, noting that emerging markets including Nigeria, among others must brace up for the challenge of improving connectivity.

The Union argued that regulators and policymakers must be able to enhance broadband development and rollout in rural areas, and urged easing of regulatory requirements for community network operators; and promote tax and customs duty breaks to enable more investment in infrastructure. It also called for enhanced transparency and ease of doing business to encourage investment in infrastructure, and need to focus on complementary access networks that service underserved markets.

It further advised governments to recognise that market forces do not always address connectivity for rural and remote areas. “Therefore, governments should promote investment– that is, public, private, partnership models (PPPs) – in relation to both supply and demand creation pertaining to broadband network infrastructure deployment for rural and remote areas.”

Furthermore, ITU called on governments to create an enabling environment that includes the elaboration and deployment of incentives for investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas.

According to the body, governments should make land available for installation of mobile towers and have clear policies and precision in the role of each government department in the document approval chain for facilitating installations.

“‘Dig once’ policies should be implemented in relation to the laying of fibre, in order to make the cost of installation affordable, while at the same time keeping service fees low.”
“Policy makers are encouraged to ensure that ICT training is incorporated into school curriculum as digital literacy also stimulates demand,” ITU noted. Meanwhile, the Ekiti project is expected to lift the state from 16 per cent Internet penetration to 90 per cent.

According to the Managing Director of O’odua Infraco Resources Limited, Sammy Adigun, the project will be officially flagged off in October and completed within 14 months.

This decision is a follow-up to the recent crash of Right of Way charges slash from N4,500 to N145 per meter for broadband infrastructure, and in line with one of the five pillars of Governor Kayode Fayemi’s development plan for Ekiti.

The Governor noted that these decisions would help generate healthy competition within the ICT sector, thus activating the state’s digital economy and digital education. Fayemi said the project execution, and the state’s broadband policy would be coordinated and supervised by a Digital Infrastructural Committee, made up of various relevant government institutions critical to the implementation of the project.

“For us the roadmap is first the fibre connectivity itself, the second is the adequate data centre infrastructure, the third is the e-learning programme which will cover our educational institutions, then our safe city, our security programme will also be included.

“With our geographical land information system (GIS), we would digitalise all our land records, and of course, commercial investment as well as digitalisation of our government assets and our health education initiative,” Fayemi explained.

Meanwhile, in its recommendations and guidelines for operators ITU stressed the need for them to upgrade 2G network sites to 3G or 4G; and extend or densify networks through low cost solutions; use alternative energy to power tower sites. It also encouraged them to make use of Wi-fi hotspots for public areas; embrace smaller operators, virtual network operators and community networks run by local community businesses as complementary rather than view them as competition.

Others are the need to invest in research and development to find cost-effective last mile connectivity solutions for rural and remote areas; make use of partnerships with governments and Universal Service funds, when deploying networks to rural and remote areas, and encourage and implement infrastructure sharing.

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