Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu, the President of? the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), in this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, proffers suggestions on how to implement broadband regime, the new ICT policy and what government should do with NITEL.
In recent times you have been rallying the telecom industry and talking of protection of ICT infrastructures, why?
Our mandate is to protect the investments in the telecom industry in Nigeria. It is all embracing in the sense that we do all things by working more with the government, investors and with technology such that if people are making investments, their investments would be protected. It is a project that anybody who is making investment, regardless of wherefrom, regardless of who he is, we want to work in such a way that his investment is protected. If you are our member you would be part of the think-tank and those who are donating their resources towards the achievement of that goal.
Our belief is that once the industry is good and investments are protected, then the field is good for everybody, including our members. A component of the implementation of that mandate is that we must be forecasting what should happen in several years. We must be planning how we want the industry to be and work towards achieving that goal.
We must have the intellectual preparedness to understand the need for studies and we must carry out studies, and use the studies to forecast what would happen in the future and so, forecast the problems we are likely to face and find solutions to them. One of the results of forecasting is that if we have broadband access in the country, the more it reaches the last man, the more rapidly our progress in economic and also political life.
Our crusade is to make technology useful to our grandmothers in the village, just like they breathe air. We want technology to serve their purpose. It should not be an issue, and for it not to be an issue, some of us must provide the work.? In the process, we found out that the answer to future development, having benefited from digital technology, is investment in broadband internet access.
Two years ago ATCON came up with a broadband initiative to address the broadband imbalance in Nigeria; meetings were held within and outside the country. Why the shift in the idea of the association?
When I came in as president, I called my colleagues and explained my point of view. We projected from the past and we looked?? into the future and then we decided that we would do a plan. The plan was to hire some consultants to carry out a study of what is happening all over the world and look at our peculiar circumstance in Nigeria and advise on how we could implement a broadband internet access regime.
We also decided that we would synergise with other interested parties. I became very useful here because I knew those who were interested in terms of investment; I knew some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who were interested in terms of social service, that is, Civil Service Organisations (CSOs). I knew those who should be interested because they were in government, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), for example.
There is an organisation called Forum of Partnership Institutions. It is a forum of six Nigerian universities who were working to ensure that the universities have internet network. We identified and approached them. Fortunately they were interested in the programme. We also got an NGO called Fantsuam Foundation in Kafanchan and we approached them.
?All three of us decided that we should sit down, jointly hire a consultant and tell the consultant to do us a paper and we would look at the paper, modify it to suit our objective and then move on from there. That was how the paper called Framework for Broadband For Nigeria (BB4NG) came about. When we had the document, we decided also to take it to Nigerians to peruse and comment.
?We sent it to organisations that had the knowledge. We did an exercise of approaching some people in the economy: the banks, telecom operators, government, etc. We identified almost 35 different interests (about 110 people) and we invited all of them. I saw university professors, military people, investors, teachers, market women, telephone consumer associations.
They agreed to the document and it was there that they said Nigerians were now demanding that broadband internet access? become a fundamental right,which was a unique demand. I think Nigeria had changed prior to the January 2012 fuel subsidy troubles because that demand was made in July 26, 2010. We presented it to them and afterwards presented it to the federal government to say that this is the roadmap.
In that roadmap, we also identified the role that each one us would have to play. The role government, investors, advocacies, students, academics, etc. would play were tabled there. We did a review of our own content of the BB4NG. To begin to implement our own is also to articulate our own roadmap.
After this, we decided that we should hold a Broadband Investment Summit and invite emerging investors, existing investors, service providers and other interests. Again we had about 165 people purposely selected; media, investors, etc., and we sat down for two days and four recommendations came out.
First, we should demand for broadband policy so that we could have a focus. We also said we would sensitise the industry to believe that if we have access to every Nigerian, the cost of access would be so cheap that it would just be like breathing air. Though we know that it is difficult to do, we would make that attempt to sensitise Nigerians in such a manner that they would realise that if broadband access were available to everybody then the cost of access would be very close to nothing.
?But at the moment, we are still running the industry with the mindset that everybody could not? afford the cost of access which would continue to be very high. We therefore decided that we would run a programme called Broadband Expansion Programme (BEP), which is our implementation number two. Implementation number three is that we should approach government, both the communications technology ministry, and the NCC and ask them to sit down and plan together with us.
It is the ministry that would determine the policy we are choosing. It is the regulator that supervises where we are going, we want to synergise with the two of them. We want to look into their vision and we want them to also see our vision. Our vision may be too radical but there is nothing too radical in it if we were able to carry people along.
We have approached the NCC and the ministry. In few weeks we would have a meeting with the NCC and look at the direction each of us want to go and this would make our investments easy to implement. It would also make them see things that they cannot see because they are not investors; they are not in the field. If we don’t explain things to them, they probably may be planning in a wrong manner and we don’t want them to go before we start criticising them.
Do you think government will say no?
It is not possible. If we don’t prepare those who are going to use it and we just keep on writing memo to government it is going to be difficult. That is the total concept and I’m happy that I’m starting it to the point of implementation before I leave office. I came to start it. I’m not a second term person; in fact, I can even be more useful from the outside. I have laid the necessary infrastructure, prepared all the frameworks that we could build on.
The Federal Government has held Broadband Investment Summit for Nigeria at ITU 2011 in Geneva. With what ATCON, NCC and the Communications Technology Ministry are doing, have we succeeded in briningg the right investors into our broadband market?
What would raise our economy is local investment. Foreign investment is very necessary to the extent of partnerships, to the extent of dollar value entering but our economy would grow when our people are there working. Economy is about productivity, it is about people working. It is about non-existence of unemployment.