Olusola Teniola is the current Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) President. He was formerly the Chief Executive Officer of Phase3 Telecom based in Abuja. Engaged in various telco related projects, Teniola is helping to pave the way to real change in broadband and telecoms in Nigeria, while improving the lives of communities across the country.
Prior to being the Chief Executive Officer of IS Internet Solutions, Teniola has held a range of Senior Leadership and Management positions such as Chief Operating Officer of Phase 3 Telecom, Nigeria where he achieved 47% EBITDA and substantial sales and revenue growth.
In this interview with BUKOLA OLANREWAJU, Teniola addressed the issues on connectivity in Nigeria’s ICT industry and how existing digital gaps can be bridged.
In its recent study, ITU disclosed that teledensity in urban areas fueled by mobile technology has widened the existing digital gaps, how can this be addressed in Nigeria?
There is always this issue around affordability, which is always driven by many factors. One is the coverage of the network to certain areas in the country, the availability of smartphones, and how relevant the services are to the community i.e their language usage, physical disadvantage, and finally, literacy level.
The usage of technology is always driven by societies that know what to do and how to do it.
These aforementioned issues in Nigeria’s situation show that those in the urban areas/cities, especially the younger generation are eager to own a smartphone. They spend most of their consumables on the phone.
However, we should remember that it is not sustainable because the propensity to earn money starts to jiggle as they start having more responsibilities.
The ITU has stipulated propensity and ability of new subscribers to pay for the services, especially because the younger generations are the ones mostly considered as new subscribers (varying from children to teenagers). This will reflect on the level of penetration that will exist. Our demographic is younger because we have a huge young population.
If the networks are where the youth population is huge (they can afford to pay the available services), then you’ll see that the teledensity will move from being over-concentrated in the urban areas to the rural areas. We should note that 70 per cent of the Nigerian population resides in rural areas.
The ITU report is right. It is demonstrated that teledensity is higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Though it depends on how you measure it in Nigeria, its population can varies between 87 per cent to 96 per cent.
What we need now is for the cost of doing business to go down. The cost implication on consumers will mean affordable services, which in turn will lead to more youth accessing the services. As a result, it will increase teledensity in rural reason in line with the urban areas. This will also help to bridge digital gaps.
Based on NCC statistics, teledensity in Nigeria was placed at 98.19 per cent. Does it mean the number was achieved from the urban areas alone?
No, both are correct. If we look at teledensity in just urban areas, it is about 109 per cent but in the rural areas, the number is lower, but at 70%. NCC statistics is the combination of both (served, undeserved and unserved) areas, which then placed the number at lower than 100 per cent.
Looking at the rate at which Right of Way (RoW) charges have been drastically reduced by Nigerian State Governors, what should Nigerians be expecting?
What we like to say first is that we are very happy the Governors have understood and realised that the only way to bring in digital infrastructure like optic fibre, which is the backbone to digital economy, is to make the level of taxes and levies applied upfront to be removed. This encourages more investment in the state and country at large.
We are commending Kaduna State Governor for wavering the Right of Ways. Also, Ekiti, Imo, Plateau States Governors, and others that are yet to go public with their decisions are also well applauded.
This will mean that our members who have been seeking to rollout fibre cables in different states have no reason not to do so now. This is because the Governors have shown and proven proactive leadership in ensuring that RoW is placed at N145 per linear meters and in one case where the actual levies have been removed.
What Nigerian consumers should expect in those states is an increase in the deployment of optic fibre infrastructure, an improvement in the quality of service rendered, and eventually -this has always been the case- improved employment as different services will be deployed on the back of the laid infrastructures.
This will cut across health, agriculture, and e-commerce. It is important to note that these things will happen over a period of one to two years.
Immediately we have the rollout of fibres, improved quality of service should be noticed within the first three months, other things follow as we deploy the infrastructures.
Digital services: Digital infrastructure will create a digital economy – Nigeria has no choice. We need to build this digital economy for our future. Digital Gaps will be bridged.
How true is it that Kaduna State Government totally removed the RoW Charges in the state?
The information I always have over the last year is that His Excellency, Governor El-Rufai has removed the Right of Way Charges for the Infracos servicing the North-West Region in Nigeria.
We are now happy to have it confirmed that the Governor has applied it in his state that all service providers to smoothly roll out fibre optic cables infrastructures, we commend this overture made by His Excellency.
In earlier reports, mobile operators alleged that telecommunications consumers bear the brunt of the high Right of Way Charges demanded by states, should consumers be hopeful of a possible reduction in prices charged for telecommunications services since RoW problems have been attended to?
Like I said, it is more than likely that the telecommunications consumers will experience an improved quality of service.
But, let me state this, I plead with Nigerians that the destruction of optic fibre cables are unwarranted, especially the fiber cuts witnessed over the time that fibres have been deployed in different areas.
Recently, one of our association (ATCON) members suffered multiple fibre cuts last week and it impacted services rendered to its subscriber base.
We have to note that when any optic fibre is destroyed, any calls or services from any network will also be affected. It has a ripple effect.
What we also need to understand is that having Right of Ways charge reduced or removed means that there will larger deployment of infrastructure.
What we need to ensure and communicate to our readers is that infrastructure laid, especially the deployment of optic fibre, is critical to the development of our country.
This means to say that eventually, there will be more competition in the market as optic fibre infrastructure is been used to deliver different services. Therefore, increasing competition will lead to lesser prices, i.e. reduction in prices, so that an average Nigerians can have access to affordable services and connect to digital platforms that will be built on this infrastructure.