Awka – The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing says the UK is open to discussing the possibility availing Anambra State, the partnership to activate its digital economy to attract the necessary investments and create tech jobs.
Laing was speaking during the Anambra Broadband Stakeholders Virtual Forum held during the week.
The event attracted key stakeholders in the broadband business including telecom operators, to brainstorm on strategies to deepen broadband penetration across the state.
Laing who was represented at the event by the Head of Prosperity at the British Deputy High Commission, Martha Borstock, said the Commission is working with the Federal government and State governments and policymakers on removing systemic barriers to connectivity expansion such as the Right of Way (RoW) charges that makes laying of broadband so expensive, saying they are pleased that Anambra has waived the charges and encouraged other states to consider doing same.
According to her, the Commission recently conducted a countrywide digital inclusion diagnostic on the impact of COVID-19 on digital underserved populations in Nigeria, with the aim of working with policymakers to support digital interventions in the neediest areas of digital inclusion.
Through this program, she said, the UK government is working with 24 rural schools in Nigeria to support access to online learning which has become a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his address, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Aliyu Pantami represented by his Technical Assistant, Olufemi Adeluyi, said the Federal Government is ready to support Anambra State to take full advantage of the many benefits of broadband connectivity and boost its digital economy.
Enumerating the benefits of increased broadband penetration to the economy to include sustainable jobs, socio-economic growth and higher standard of living, the Minister said Anambra has established itself as one of the leading players in the nation’s digital economy.
According to him, the waiver of RoW fees for the deployment of broadband infrastructure in Anambra state is a great step in positioning the state to embrace the digital economy, describing the action as timely, commendable and worthy of emulation.
He revealed that the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) for Nigeria (2020-2025), seeks to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria at a minimum of 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90% of the population and penetration rate of 70% by 2025 at a price not more than N390 per 1GB of data.
“The Plan replaced the initial Broadband Plan which expired in 2018 and outlines a trajectory for significantly improving the broadband penetration in Nigeria over a period of 5 years.
“The Plan targets the deployment of nationwide fibre coverage to reach all State Capitals, and provision of a point of presence in at least 90% of Local Government Headquarters.
“It also targets tertiary educational institutions, major hospitals in each state and fibre connectivity at statutory rates of N145/linear meter for Right of Way (RoW),” he said.
Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano who spoke through his deputy, Dr Nkem Okeke, explained that Anambra’s decision to implement a N0.00 per linear meter, which is lower than the recommended fee of N145 per linear meter by the National Economic Council as RoW charges, was to create an enabling environment for telecommunication companies to spur increased fiber infrastructure deployment in Anambra which will further enhance broadband penetration through the length and breadth ofthe state.
“Our primary focuses are on E-security, E-commerce, E-government, E-education and E-health. We are of the view that these sectors are in line with the policy direction of my administration (the Anambra State Urban Regeneration Initiative) and of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, 2019 and the National Broadband Plan 2020-2025,” he said.
The governor assured prospective telecoms investors that his government has put the enabling environment in place for the smooth take-off and running of their businesses, which include “a one-stop shop for the grant of all permits and approvals, certainty of fees and documentation requirements, expedited and transparent approval processes and accessible channels through which disputes can be easily resolved.”
Earlier in an opening remarks, Barr Chike Maduekwe, Chairman of Anambra State Physical Planning Board (ANSPPB), under whose auspices, the virtual forum was organized, pointed out that the State Government drew inspiration from the Federal Government’s efforts and initiatives, and recognizes that it needs the support of players in the ecosystem, for a success of our broadband rollout programme, hence the essence of the forum.
In his words; “The Anambra State Physical Planning and Urban Planning Board under the leadership of Governor Obiano, is working to ensure that the goals of the Urban Regeneration Initiative are achieved.
“Also, as the body saddled with the responsibility of granting building permits/approvals in the state for the deployment of fiber optics and other relevant approvals, we are taking a critical look at the guiding laws and practices obtainable in the state, with a view to establishing a seamless working environment for the operations of telecommunication companies.
“We also expect that the contributions from stakeholders in this Forum will form part of the considerations we will utilize in mapping out these strategies and also in reviewing the laws and practices in respect of the grant of row permits/approvals.”
In their goodwill messages, other speakers including the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, Prof Umar Danbata represented by Dr Augustine Nwanume, NCC’s Director for Digital Economy, the ATCON President, Engr. Ikechukwu Nnamani commended the virtual forum initiative, expressing the hope that the platform will help address the bottlenecks hindering effective broadband deployment in the state.