Com World Series: How is your organisation positioned in Nigeria and what are its future objectives?
Sonia Jorge: The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) is working directly with the Government of Nigeria to strengthen its efforts towards the delivery of affordable Internet to Nigerian citizens. Nigeria publicly committed to develop and implement the policy and regulatory changes needed to drive down the cost of broadband access when it formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Alliance in October 2013, becoming the first country to take this progressive step. It has since been followed by Ghana and Mozambique.
As a key element of this work, A4AI has brought together a wide range of actors, including representatives from the Nigerian government, private sector and civil society, to identify policy and regulatory barriers to affordable Internet in the country, and to put into place a plan to overcome these obstacles. A national coalition has been formed, and is actively working to produce concrete solutions to the challenges. Through this multi-stakeholder process, A4AI hopes to help Nigeria increase its Internet penetration rate to 30% by 2017, as set out in the country’s National Broadband Plan.
Com World Series: What do you think are the top 3 major trends that are affecting your work in the region in 2014?
- Technological innovation: The rapid emergence of new and innovative technologies has the power to drive down the cost of broadband access, when combined with an updated regulatory and policy framework.
- Spirit of collaboration: As sectors with seemingly divergent interests recognise the shared economic and social benefits of pursuing increased access to affordable Internet, the region has seen improved collaboration and a rise in effective partnerships.
- Shared infrastructure access and development: The increased willingness of government and private telecommunications companies to enter into partnerships is leading to more opportunities for the development of open and shared infrastructure (e.g., fibre optic lines, base stations) on both a national and regional level. Resource sharing through these partnerships will allow the government, network operators, and other infrastructure providers to reduce and share capital and operational risks, which will, in turn, reduce the cost for consumers to come online.
Com World Series: What are the remaining challenges in terms of connectivity and quality of services in the region and which technologies are most likely to resolve these issues?
Sonia Jorge: New and innovative technological solutions to broadband affordability challenges—including innovative uses of spectrum, urban WiFi zones and data centres— are constantly emerging. While these technologies have shown promising early results in their ability to bring down the cost of Internet, all too often outdated and ill-conceived policies and regulations prevent the benefits of these technologies from being fully unlocked across the African continent. By working directly with national governments and a wide range of key stakeholders, A4AI aims to bring outdated policy and regulatory frameworks into the digital age, and to help to realise the UN Broadband Commission goal of entry-level broadband services priced at less than 5% of average monthly income.
Com World Series: How are smartphones/tablets and cloud services impacting mobile/internet service providers in Nigeria?
Sonia Jorge: The diminishing cost of new technologies has caused a substantial uptake in the use of smart mobile technology in Nigeria, where currently around 25 percent of over 105 million mobile telephone subscribers use smartphones (TNS Global, 2012). The use of these devices and the number of people using them to connect to the Internet is expected to grow as more businesses based in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, use smartphones and tablets to link to the global economy and to efficiently conduct business. While the adoption of smartphones is increasing, the high cost of a mobile broadband connection, which hovers around 13% of average income, is restricting the ability of citizens throughout Nigeria to connect to and take advantage of information found on the Web. Only when the cost to connect to mobile broadband on these devices drops to a level that the average Nigerian can afford will the true impact of the use of these technologies be felt.
Com World Series: In your opinion, which companies, governments and other players are spearheading innovation in the region and what can be learnt from them?
Sonia Jorge: A number of companies working in Nigeria and throughout the continent are using modern technologies to bring more people online—Google’s Project Link is providing faster, more reliable Internet to underserved urban areas like Kampala, Uganda, by connecting local Internet service providers (ISPs) to existing long-distance fibre lines; Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative is working to bring affordable broadband to rural communities via TV white spaces (i.e., vacant radio frequencies available for unlicensed use); and West African telecommunications company, Main One, has been working to construct and roll out a metro high-speed fibre network and data centre in Lagos, with the aim of reducing ICT costs and enhancing business profitability. Meanwhile, Research ICT Africa has consistently been delivering robust, high-quality research into communications issues across the region which helps to drive informed decision-making and debate.
Looking at national initiatives around the continent, Morocco emerges as a positive example of government innovation in the ICT sector. The country was ranked as the top developing country in A4AI’s 2013 Affordability Report, and is implementing a number of innovative policies in order to increase Internet penetration. These policies are encapsulated in “2013 Digital Morocco”, a plan aimed at intensifying usage through a focus on affordability of both devices and access. However, with mobile broadband prices sitting at around 20 percent of per capita monthly incomes, and about 80 percent of monthly incomes for those living in poverty (less than $2 per day), Morocco’s government has much work to do. As well as working to drive prices down, the country plans to equip all schools in Morocco with broadband access and ICT training, and establish PPPs to offer devices to marginalised sub-segments of the population.
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