Photograph — OpenCape

Nigeria’s communications regulator is looking to improve the state of broadband infrastructure in the country under a joint initiative with an association of six infrastructure companies (infracos), an official at the agency said at the weekend.

A total of N265 billion ($732 million) will be raised by both parties to fund the State Accelerated Broadband Initiative (SABI) in the next four years, according to Umar Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The agency is expected to provide N65 billion in counterpart funding while the balance would be raised by the private sector.

Nigeria has one of the largest telecom markets in the continent. Apart from the major mobile network operators, there are a number of additional players operating under the unified licensing regime. Hundreds of companies, mostly small and localized, currently operate in the sector, providing a range of telecom and value-added services.

But the general infrastructural deficit in Africa’s most populous nation means broadband penetration remains low nationwide.  “If we can get this done successfully in the next four years, we would have succeeded in transforming the country in multiple ways,” Danbatta said, highlighting the benefits of the project which is expected to cut across the 36 states of the country.

The plan is to roll out an additional 30,000 kilometers (19,000 miles) of fiber across 774 local governments. This would take the total fiber to 71,000 kilometers by 2024, Danbatta told Bloomberg by phone, saying that the penetration rate could rise to 65 percent from 38 percent.

Danbatta noted that the broadband project would help in overcoming infrastructural deficits in the telecommunications sector as well as in managing energy, education, transportation, and the environment, and meeting some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Considering the telecom sector already attracts considerable foreign investment, government infrastructure programs, such as SABI, are expected to further stimulate investment in coming years.

The broadband project will reportedly commence this year after NCC obtained government approval, Danbatta said, adding that the commission hopes to “see the financial inclusion rate increase significantly as well as mobile money services” which would “transform our society.”

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