Many things in Nigeria appear unfixable. Things that other countries take almost for granted we seem to struggle with, eternally. It is a characteristic that pervades nearly everything we do as a country. It continues to impact negatively on the nation’s growth.
Take communications. Almost two decades after the liberalisation of the nation’s communications sector, operators and regulatory agencies still point to the same things as hindering the growth of the sector – multiple taxations and Right of Way (RoW) approvals. Right of Way is particularly contentious as it directly stalls the growth of the sector and impacts on the quality of service.
This is how it works. To extend the reach of its services operating companies need to lay fibre optic cables to access relevant locations. To do this they must seek and gain approval from the government and relevant agencies. Governors have instituted a charge for RoW. This process aside from being cumbersome and time-consuming is equally quite expensive.
The RoW charge is the levy paid to state governments for the right to lay of optic fibre by telecoms operators. It is curious that charge only applies to telecom services providers, whereas there are other players that require RoW. For instance, oil industry for the pipelines, power companies for electricity cables and maybe water cooperation for water pipes.
The sad part is that state governments now view RoW charges as a money-making venture. Some have set up agencies to collect this supposed largesse and few others collaborate with private companies to collect and distribute the proceeds. It is every shade of wrong and untidy. Sadly, telecom service providers appear to be the only victims.
This was the case until the Ekiti state government decided to buck the trend. Last week, the state governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi announced that the government has slashed the right of way charges for telecommunications infrastructure from N4, 500 to N145 per meter.
The governor signed an Executive Order reducing the Right of Way charges related to laying broadband or any other telecommunications infrastructures from N4, 500 to N145 per meter. He noted, “This is part of the government’s strategy to create an enabling environment for businesses, ensure ease of doing business, and reduce barriers to capital investments and broadband services in the state.”
The order read in part: “The government of Ekiti state is desirous of providing all those living in Ekiti state, especially rural communities with access to reliable, affordable broadband connectivity. Broadband connectivity across Ekiti state will enhance the ability of the government of Ekiti state to increase economic prosperity; attract new businesses, enhance job growth, extend the reach of affordable, high-quality healthcare, enrich student learning with digital tools, and facilitate access to the digital marketplace.”
Ekiti State has demonstrated beyond the rhetoric that it is truly committed to increasing connectivity in its domain. It has shown that honour and Integrity are not mere words but action, solid actions. The Ekiti State government has, by this action, written its name in gold letters in the history of the nation’s telecom development.
Ekiti has shown beyond a doubt that it seeks the best for its citizens. It has demonstrated that it understands what it takes to compete in the digital era. By this action, the state is actively calling on operators to come and invest in the state.
Ekiti State is saying loud and clear that it is ready for business.
There are insinuations the state is only assenting to the rates agreed by the NEC to create a uniform Right of Way (RoW) charge of N145 per linear meter of fibre. It is neither here nor there. The state government has simply taken the lead. It has shown that it can be done. Other states now need to quickly follow suit. For now, Ekiti State deserves all the commendations.
The benefits of widespread connectivity are incalculable. The governor spoke of “affordable broadband connectivity.” This precisely what this about widespread availability of high-speed, always-on broadband internet connectivity.
Broadband is rightly regarded, rightly, as a powerful general-purpose technology. Across the globe, it continues to drive widespread changes in the information and communication technologies (ICTs) space enabling among other things, cloud computing, internet of things, smart homes and cities and mobile apps.
Broadband is equally influencing innovation across many other sectors including financial inclusion, telemedicine and electronic government.
According to the World Bank, “A 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration raised annual per capita growth by 0.9-1.5 percentage points.”
So, clearly, the government has done a good thing. It now needs to do other good things. It must seriously consider establishing ICT parks, create technology hubs, energize startups and precipitate. It also needs to find a way to make access to digital learning a key part of its education pillar.
Again, the Ekiti State government has taken a perennial challenge for operators in the Nigerian telecom space and made easy work of it. It has highlighted its appreciation of the importance of connectivity.
Connectivity boosts productivity. Every study supports this assertion. States interested in genuine development must reconsider their current stand on RoW charges. This is time to do the right thing and give your citizens a chance to explore and exploit the digital society.
What Ekiti has done is simple yet revolutionary. It is sort of out-of-the-box thinking that has immense potential to promote competition, drive innovation and guarantee market growth. It might have been a small step for the government but it is a huge leap towards making broadband opportunities reachable for all citizens in Ekiti state.
The goal, of course, is to deepen broadband penetration for the social and economic development of the country. Ekiti State has taken the first step. It is on the right track. Others must now follow suit.
Elvis Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.