Although Nigeria’s Information and Communication Technology, ICT, market has recorded tremendous success while deploying 4G for commercial services, a feat that had put the country ahead of Europe and China, identifying access gap areas that needed the intervention of the network operators have remained a challenge due to lack of available data.
But with the unveiling of the new Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF, website and the access gap study recently in Lagos by the Ministry of Communications Technology during the recent industry stakeholders forum, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. From the forum, positive signals emerged that challenges in getting a clear view of the true access gap within the country so that operator’s interventions are targeted at the appropriate communities and groups have been resolved.
The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to facilitate the achievement of national policy goals for universal access and universal service to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural, un-served and under-served areas in Nigeria.
The Fund is being managed to facilitate the widest possible access to affordable telecommunications services for greater social equity and inclusion for the people of Nigeria.
Accordingly, the result of the access gap study by USPF is expected to bridge digital divide across the country no matter the locality.
Recall that in 2013, the USPF carried out a study with the objective of identifying clusters of voice telephony and transport network gap in the country.
The result of the study however assisted the USPF in designing projects and strategies to cover these gaps and ensure that ICT consumers irrespective of locality is connected in the 21st century Nigeria.
Earlier in her speech during the industry stakeholders forum to present the access gap study , the Chairman of the USPF Board, the Minister of Communications Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, told the gathering that the USPF in pursuit of its mandate to stimulate the deployment and utilization of ICT services in un-served and underserved communities and groups in the country, has continued to play a leading role in promoting and deepening ICT access and availability in the rural areas of the country.
“The mandate of the fund is the backdrop against which it developed the SMP 2013-2017 to guide execution of sustainable ICT projects which will improve the quality of lives of Nigerians and facilitate socio economic development. In the USPF, the mantra is that access to ICT is not a privilege, but a right. We will continue to push forward frontiers of service until ICT for all is achieved.
“Whilst developing the SMP 2013-2017, it became clear that to make the dream of providing ICT access and availability to all in the industry a reality, we needed to get a clear view of the true access gap within the country so that our interventions are targeted at the appropriate communities and groups.
“Thus, the Access Gap study was conceptualized and has now culminated in the identification of over 200 subsidy clusters across the six geo political zones which represent the areas where telecommunication services are yet to reach.
“Subsequently, the USPF will utilize these clusters to identify target areas, define universal access service (UAS) interventions and map the interventions to the appropriate communities.
We will also share the results of the study with the Telecoms Operators to enable them get a detailed view of the needs and demands of the market and assist them in developing roll out plans for these unreached areas”, the Minister explained. According to her, government would continue to collaborate with the Telecom Operators to closing access gap in the country and set Nigeria on the path of being a full digitalized nation.
Unveiling the new USPF website, the Secretary, USPF, Abdullahi Maikano explained that in order to achieve the objective of the study, existing service areas were identified using Base station Data , BTS, supplied by mobile operators with geographical coordinates, address, among others.
Based on the methodology used, he said that this was followed by fieldwork, interviews, and drive tests to authenticate the service status of the areas identified.
Using inferences from the field activities, he informed that reliable service coverage during the study was assumed to be within 5 km of BTS, adding that areas beyond this threshold is taken as underserved.
Subsequently, areas considered underserved or unserved, according to him were grouped and mapped into contiguous clusters on state by states basis.
“In all, a total of 207 clusters were established with an estimated population of about 36.8 million people. The clusters are grouped according to the five population density – North West, North East, North Central, South West, South South and South East” he said.
Speaking on how the prosed project would bridge the gaps, Mr. Parvet Iftihar of Global said that it would go a long way in helping telecoms operators to identify access gap.According to him, the cluster of ICT gap will also help operators to know what infrastructure to cover a particular area or region.