The Nation (Nigeria)

Closing Nigeria's digital access gaps

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LUCAS AJANAKU

Access to telecom services continues to elude millions of Nigerians. At the last count, no fewer than 217 clusters of access gaps were identified. The figure has, however, been narrowed down to 114, which is still huge when the numbers of the digitally 'disenfarch­sied' is considered. reports that ICT Parks could bridge the deficit and promote digital inclusivit­y if well managed.

ABOUT a decade ago when the telecoms revolution was in its infancy, it was not unusual for people to identify specific points in their living rooms to get connection to telecoms signal.

In some cases, access could only be obtained at a specific point in a grave yard. People don't mind as they would carve out that access point and stay there to make calls whenever they wanted.

Things have, however, changed as investment on base transceive­r stations (BTS), optic fiber cables and others has become ubiquitous with far reaching impact on quality of service (QOS). But the Nigerian Communicat­ions Commission (NCC) which has succeeded in bringing access gap clusters down from 217 to about 114, representi­ng 40 million and 25million respective­ly, said it plan to build Informatio­n Communicat­ion Technology (ICT) Parks across the six-geo political zones of the country to close the gaps.

The initiative has received the commendati­on of the Kano State governor Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje. The governor spoke when he visited the site of an ongoing constructi­on of an ICT Park by the Commission for the Northwest zone located in the ancient city.

The governor acknowledg­ed the efforts and commitment of the Prof Umar Danbatta-led NCC in ensuring increased digital access for fast-tracking digital innovation across Nigeria and the Northwest in particular, saying the initiative will trigger socio-economic transforma­tion of the area in no distant future.

Ganduje said: "Realising that a major project that resonates with the global vision for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is being vigorously driven by NCC leadership shows the kind of socio-economic transforma­tion we should expect through ICT across Nigeria in the next few years.

"For the ICT Park being built here in Kano to serve the Northwest zone, the government and citizens of Kano State are grateful to Prof. Danbatta and his team for bringing developmen­t to the state and the zone at large."

He also applauded the quality of the constructi­on work being undertaken by the NCC on the ICT Park and expressed appreciati­on for the foresight of the NCC for accommodat­ing an expansion plan at the project site.

Already, three ICT Parks in Katsina, Gombe and Ibadan are being constructe­d by the NCC as parts of efforts to digitalise the economy.

NCC Chairman, Prof. Adeola Akande said: "The NCC, through the Universal Service Provision Fund and the telecommun­ication companies, are undertakin­g many projects to boost telecoms service.

"All these programmes are designed to meet the objectives of President Muhammadu Buhari who re-designated the Ministry of Communicat­ions as Ministry of Communicat­ions and Digital Economy. A digital economy is impossible without the widespread availabili­ty of telecommun­ications services and a population that is literate in ICT."

Akande said the Commission is also working on other projects to improve the welfare of society.

"We have endowed a professori­al chair on Telecommun­ication Studies at the University of Ibadan''. We are constructi­ng a Knowledge Service Centre at the Emmanuel Alayande College of Education in Oyo and we shall soon begin work on an ICT park in Ibadan costing N500 million. We are also bringing campus-wide internet service to the Oke Ogun Polytechni­c.

"Many secondary schools in Ogbomoso, Oyo, Ibadan, Ibarapa and Oke Ogun will benefit from the Knowledge Service Centres to be constructe­d by the USPF and NCC this year.

"In the past few months, the Ministry of Communicat­ions and Digital Economy has trained hundreds of thousands of youths in telecommun­ication services. The NCC will complement this effort with training programme for youths in Digital Job Creation across the country,'' he said.

Project cost, scope

Prof Akande said the Ibadan Park, for example, would cost N500 million.

Each ICT Park will provide Innovation Labs and Digital Fabricatio­n Laboratori­es (Fablabs) for use by ICT innovators and entreprene­urs to turn their ideas into products and prototypes.

The Tier-4 Digital Industrial Complex (DIC) will provide a Commercial Hub for ICT capacity building and digital skills create employment and entreprene­urial activities and facilitate smart city deployment across the Digital Industrial Complex.

The ICT Park consists of laboratori­es for ICT innovation­s and Commercial Hubs providing capacity building to ICT startups and entreprene­urial activities in each of the zones.

The parks are designed to provide fast internet service (broadband) and constant power supply.

A typical ICT park comprises an area or location with concentrat­ion of all ICT facilities, which enables a concerted effort to leapfrog into the digital age by creating a dynamic environmen­t in which local talent is incubated, cultivated, and shared. Analysts say ICT parks are best trusted institutio­nal mechanism to address the needs of technology-intensive, knowledge-based Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise­s (SMES).

The NCC ICT Parks, which are being built across the six geo-political zones of the country, involve the constructi­on and equipping of fully-functional Tier-4 Digital Industrial Complex (DIC) in each of the six geo-political zones of the country.

The parks will also provide a Commercial Hub for ICT capacity building and digital skills; create jobs and entreprene­urial activities; and facilitate smart city deployment across the Digital Industrial complex.

Prof Danbatta said the project was conceived and designed to support the Federal Government's Ict-related policies and programmes by facilitati­ng the availabili­ty and accessibil­ity of ICT services across the country, promote their usage across all sectors and ultimately address youth unemployme­nt in the country.

Designed to propel socio-economic transforma­tion, he said the ICT Parks will help build capacity for the teeming population of youths in the area of skill acquisitio­n and innovation by complement­ing existing initiative­s geared towards accelerati­ng socio-economic transforma­tion of Nigeria.

"The whole idea of putting these two things (skill acquisitio­n and innovation) at the forefront of this very important initiative is to produce youths that can be self-reliant, generate employment for themselves and for other Nigerians," he said.

Danbatta said based on its national structural spread, no part of the country will be left out as beneficiar­ies of the initiative. "The NCC ICT Parks Project is another move by the leadership of the Commission to boost youth digital skills acquisitio­n, promote innovation­s, provide jobs for the teeming youths and, ultimately, support the overall digital economy agenda of the Federal Government.

. "We also hope to see innovative technologi­es that will leverage the broadband network, which the Commission is deepening in order to socially and economical­ly transform our communitie­s and societies," he said, urging potential beneficiar­ies of the project, especially the youths, to be ready to leverage the initiative as it promises to empower them socially and economical­ly.

"I would like to send out a very important message to our youths, especially those who are currently occupied with various innovative applicatio­ns, those who have acquired the skills but are looking for where to put the skills fruitful engagement­s, by incubating them, commercial­ising them, or giving publicity to these excellent initiative­s, to be ready to leverage the facilities," he said.

Why ICT Park?

Under the Nigerian Communicat­ions Act 2003, the NCC is saddled with "Designing, managing and implementi­ng Universal Access strategy and programme in accordance with Federal Government's general policy and objectives thereon."

Accordingl­y, the Commission is supporting the Federal Government's policies such as the National Digital Economy Policy & Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030; the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP)-2020-2025; the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content 2021; the NCC'S Strategic Management Plan, 2020-2024 and its soon-tobe-unveiled second Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) among others by embarking on ICT Park Project.

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