Digital infrastructure is critical to achieving digital inclusion. Also important is the promotion of competitiveness and innovation by regulation. The contribution of telecom towards the development and spread of innovation and productivity within society is unquestionable. Indeed despite glaring developmental concerns, telecom is reckoned to be the country’s most reliable public socio-economic infrastructure.
Creating the enabling environment depends to a large extent on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the government regulator. Effective and efficient regulation of the telecom industry aims to foster of innovation and attract considerable investment. This in turn will boost economic growth and employment generation. Coming from nearly zero level in 2001, Nigeria appears to have done well. Being tagged as a preferred destination for telecommunication investment by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is no small thing. True, the telecom sector is undeniably one the fastest growing in the world.
Regulation works by employing merit, excellence, efficiency, best practices and smart governance. It’s a space in which MTN, Airtel, 9 mobile, Glo and others compete aggressively. NCC’s job certainly isn’t easy street. The market is definitely attractive. Often characterized by profits, benefits for operators and providers (Internet) as well as supporting industries. However, since inclusion, innovation and development are paramount, we must ask: what is the spirit, the vision behind the regulatory framework? The goal should be a telecom ecosystem that not only thrives but ensures sustainability by contributing significantly to inclusive growth and development. To be relevant, to compete, to create, it is essential to leverage infrastructure and its platform to tap into new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, etc. To build new businesses, to create tech for local and global markets and engage in research that addresses our needs, infrastructure is a necessity not a luxury.
And we are not where we should be yet. Indeed things appear to have slowed down in 2017. Some operators have reduced staff. Rather than the era of steady growth, telecom contribution to Nigeria’s GDP appears to be fluctuating. Though numbers are still high, NCC reports indicate a decline in internet subscribers and telephone lines. Some small operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in fact seem to be exiting the market.
Could recession blues of 2017 be the culprit? Or the harsh foreign exchange climate? Diminished financial capacity is real while expenditure is on the rise. Are there new technology developments? Or is the non-adoption of smart and digital thinking and approaches by state governments the issue?
Let’s refuse to speculate. As a matter of urgency, NCC needs to identify the root causes and find ways of halting the slide. We talk about diversifying the economy but how realistic is that as telecom gets weaker? As the ability to improve infrastructure decreases.
NCC should continue to invest in improving Quality of Service (QoS) and enhancing telecom performance for consumers; interesting that 2017 was the NCC Year of the consumer. Insular and silo mentalities will halt the nation’s IoT and AI dreams and derail inclusion. Telecom has a been a bright spot, but important issues call for attention. Denial and repetition of promises don’t help. NCC should engage with other stakeholders to build on achievements and create a shared vision for the environment. Address the roadblocks and get telecom infrastructure back on track for digital development and digital inclusion.
New Tech Connection