Reduction of Right of Way Charges- A Catalyst for Broadband Penetration in Nigeria
Imagine yourself in a world without the internet? Drab, right? That’s what I thought. We use the internet for a vast array of activities like ordering for a cab, communication, entertainment, and the list remains endless.
You would agree with me that without the internet many of us would be completely lost. It is vital for work, business and banking which we can do all from the comfort of our homes thanks to broadband technology.
The overwhelming importance of Broadband in our present world cannot be overemphasized. Governments around the world increasingly view broadband as the “fourth utility” alongside water, heating and electricity.
The power of broadband has been confirmed by recent research, which shows that broadband fosters GDP growth, creates jobs and stimulates innovation, while also enabling improvements in education, health care and other social services.
To realize the many benefits of broadband, governments around the world are implementing comprehensive nationwide plans, as well as more tightly focused broadband programs.
When combined with strategies that ensure availability and affordability of ICT, these efforts help reap the benefits of broadband more quickly and provide broadband services to more citizens at affordable prices.
This refers to high-speed data transmission in which a single cable can carry a large amount of data once. The most common types of Internet broadband connections are cable modems (which use the same connection as cable TV) and DSL modems (which use your existing phone line).
Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Fiber, Wireless, Broadband over Power lines (BPL), etc. Simply put, broadband is a high-speed internet connection which allows you to enjoy everything the internet has to offer.
The broadband technology you choose will depend on a number of factors. These may include whether you are located in an urban or rural area, how broadband Internet access is packaged with other services (such as voice telephone and home entertainment), price, and availability.
Amongst different methods of laying optical fibre, the traditional method of laying optical fibres still used in most developing countries is Ducting and Trenching.
This involves creating a trench through manual or mechanized soil excavation. However, before any telecom companies and internet service providers (ISPs) can dig any cable-carrying-trenches, they must have Right of Way (ROW). This leads us to broach on what Right of Way entails.
RIGHT OF WAY
Right of Way (ROW) has different meanings, in this context, it means an Easement, a privilege to pass over the land of another, whereby the holder of the easement acquires only a reasonable and usual enjoyment of the property, and the owner of the land retains the benefits and privileges of ownership consistent with the easement.
ROW as an easement gives someone (or their property or other object belonging to them) the right to travel across a general or specific portion of a property owned by another person. In the circumstance that a person does anything on the land owned by another without obtaining permission in the form of license or easement such as ROW, he will be regarded as a trespasser.
ROW is important because developing infrastructure like power lines, fibre optic cables, roads, bridges, waterways, etc. may sometimes require the need to take a part of, or the entire land of a landowner in which event compensation must be paid.
A right of way has no effect on ownership of the land. A right of way can be offered to the public at large, or to just one or more individuals. RoW charges are levies paid by telecom companies and ISPs to federal and state government agencies for laying optic fibres.
RIGHT OF WAY CHARGES AND BROADBAND PENETRATION IN NIGERIA
Broadband Penetration is defined as a measure for the extent of access to broadband communications within the population of a particular location. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), broadband penetration is measured by the number of broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants.
With growing mobile broadband internet in Nigeria, supported by the increased use of smartphones and other mobile devices to access mobile broadband, there is a need for increased internet penetration by the process through fixed broadband access.
Statistical report by the International Telecommunication Union in May 2014 indicates that the penetration rate is low as it stood at 6%. The Nigerian Communication Commission acknowledged the low penetration and announced in August 2014, the modalities to increase the penetration level from 6% to 30% by 2018. Nigeria’ broadband penetration has increased to 40. 14 per cent in May 2020, latest figures from the Nigerian Communications Commission have shown.
There are a couple of factors militating against broadband penetration in Nigeria and notably one of the major factors is the high rate of ROW charges across states of the federation in Nigeria.
The Federal Government in the middle of 2012 issued new Right-of-Way guidelines to regulate the modalities of laying fibre cables on federal highways across the country, and ultimately help in eradicating poor quality of service in the telecoms industry.
The Federal Government had set up a joint eight-man committee consisting of four members each from the Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Works to articulate on the problems of securing ROW, provide a fast-track process of securing ROW in order to completely address the ROW challenges as they concern federal highways.
The new RoW Guidelines peg the chargeable ROW access fee for laying of ICTSP ducts and cables at N145.0/linear metre and N20.0/linear metre as annual maintenance access fee, subject to periodic reviews at five-year intervals or whenever compelling circumstances demand such reviews.
The new guidelines also stipulate that applications for granting of RoWs will be treated and concluded within 30 calendar days. Also, to encourage collocation and reduce the burden of laying and re-laying cables, the Guidelines also mandate infrastructure sharing to reduce incidents of multiple digging up of roads which compromise the integrity of the roads.”
This shows that much has been achieved in this respect nationally. At the state level, much still needs to be done. A workable framework for ROW at states’ level is needed to ensure a better quality of service delivery in the telecoms industry which will ultimately reduce the cost of deploying telecommunications infrastructure in the country and invariably the cost to the end-user.
Following a report released earlier this year on January 6, 2020, by THISDAY Newspaper, which revealed that 14 states including Lagos, Kebbi, Anambra, Ebonyi, Kaduna, etc have increased ROW charges by over 1,200%.
The RoW levy supposedly increased from between ₦300 ($0.83) and ₦500 ($1.38) per linear metre to between ₦3000 ($8.27) and ₦6000 ($16.54) per linear meter. Apparently, this is a huge contrast to the ₦142 ($0.39) charged per linear meter on Federal roads.
Commenting on the effect of the hike in ROW charges by the state government, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami opined that, “This will no doubt impact negatively on the efforts being made by the Federal Government”.
It is established that there is a strong correlation between a country’s broadband penetration and its gross domestic product (GDP). An ITU [International Telecommunication Union] study on Africa indicates that a 10% broadband penetration would result in a 2.5% increase in GDP per capita.”
Moreover, considering the fact that a single telecom needs ROW covering thousands of kilometres, this reality no doubt stands as a stumbling block to growth in this sector.
According to the chairman of The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), “…the cost implication of covering hundreds of miles, service providers could indirectly experience entry barriers into locations currently outside their reach or refuse to maintain existing fibre optic lines.
This may also affect Nigeria’s consolidated Internet market. Conversely, if Telecoms decide to comply, it may eventually result in an increase in voice calls and data tariffs as stated by ALTON’s chairman in an interview.
However, some states have taken the initiative to reduce the RoW charges levied on Telecom and ISP. In mid-May, Ekiti state, in Nigeria’s southwest, became the first state to reduce its RoW charges from N4,500 to N145 per meter. Ekiti state officials said the goal was to attract investment in broadband connectivity and create new businesses, jobs, and improve access to quality healthcare and digital education.
Soon, other states – Plateau, Imo, and Katsina – followed their lead and aligned their charges to the national rate. Other states took even bolder actions. Kwara slashed its RoW from N5,500 per linear metre to N1 per kilometre of fibre. Anambra and Kaduna removed RoW of charges completely, meaning operators can lay fibre and site base stations for free.
“This is a highly commendable step and one that has been due for so long,” says Adeboye Adegoke, a programme manager for Anglophone West Africa at Paradigm Initiative, a Lagos-based social enterprise working to increase digital inclusion and rights across Africa.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Recent research has shown that broadband fosters GDP growth, creates jobs and stimulates innovation, while also enabling improvements in education, health care and other social services.
To realize the many benefits of broadband, governments around the world are implementing comprehensive nationwide plans, as well as more tightly focused broadband programs. When combined with strategies that ensure the availability and affordability of ICT, these efforts help countries reap the benefits of broadband more quickly and provide broadband services to more citizens at an affordable price.
Asides high RoW charges, there are a number of other factors baulking Broadway penetration in Nigeria, like the epileptic power supply which increases the overhead costs of telecom and ISP companies consequently affecting productivity; poor infrastructure and basic amenities; pricing; multiple taxations and regulations from agencies and local councils, infrastructure vandalism and a myriad of other factors.
Many telecom companies are also denied RoW or are charged exorbitant rates across states in the federation to lay their infrastructures thus making it difficult for them to meet the obligatory minimum standard for service quality.
The harmonization of the RoW charges in compliance with the Federal Government RoW Guidelines and outright obliteration of RoW charges may be a silver bullet to the issue of Broadband Penetration in Nigeria as telecommunication services will attract more investments, companies as well engender socio-economic growth and development of the country.
Kolawole Olaniyi Emmanuel is a legal practitioner and he writes from Lagos. He is an International Law enthusiast, who also has a keen interest in Intellectual Property, Corporate Practice, Entertainment and Media law. He can be reached at Kolaniyi86@gmail.com.