In 2013, a committee of ministers and state governors set up by the National Economic Council (NEC) reached an agreement to unify the Right of Way charged across the country to N145.00 per linear meter of fibre. The Right of Way levy is paid to state governments to approve the passing of broadband fibre cables through their domains.
However, states hardly complied with the approved charge, demanding between 300-500 per linear metre. According to ThisDay, about 14 states have decided to hike their fees to between N3,000 and N6,000, a decision which the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami has warned will have a negative impact on the countries broadband penetration.
Ondo state is one of the 14 states planning a massive hike. According to Mr Olumbe Akinkugbe the Senior Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Information and Telecommunications Technology, the purpose of the price hike is to encourage a ‘One Dig Policy’.
One dig policy is a situation whereby we partner with a reliable organisation to actually develop a fibre rollout plan on these right of way at a discounted rate such that when various telecoms operators are coming in there is already a laid down path as well as dug. What that will do is that it will prevent a situation where MTN wants to expand their fibre infrastructure, they come and apply for right of way and dig; that Airtel wants to come, they come again, they open up the ground and start digging.Mr Olumbe Akinkugbe, Senior Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Information and Telecommunications Technology
Mr Akinkugbe’s comment however raises more questions than answers. First off, if the plan is to develop a fiber rollout plan at a discounted rate, why is there such a massive hike in fee levied for Right of Way? From the looks of it, there appears to be an over-demand rather than a discount.
Secondly, it shouldn’t be the job of state governments to dig for fibre cables. Not only are they non-experts in the field, pre-digging could pose future problems. Like what if the diggers didn’t get the proper specifications, who foots the bill for re-digging? The broadband providers haven’t complained that digging was a challenge, why make it so?
Recently, the NCC announced the allocation of $732 million to deploy an additional 30,000 kilometres of fibre cable over the next four years. However, with the new RoW, the country may not be able to achieve that lofty feat.
For instance, Lagos State increased its RoW fee from N500 per linear meter to N5, 000 per linear meter. This means, instead of N500,000 per kilometre, telecoms will now spend N5 million per kilometre. This effectively reduces the number of fibre that can be laid in the state quite considerably.
It is important for state governments to understand that broadband infrastructure is not just any other kind of infrastructure. As the minister of communication had noted, the growth of Nigeria’s digital economy and GDP depends on it. It is also important to note that Right of Way is held in trust by state governments for the benefit of the people.
Looking into the future, broadband is set to become an absolute necessity. It looks set to power our activities, from social to economic and even political. While it is ultimately the prerogative of state governments to fix RoW rates, a good government wouldn’t hinder its people’s socio-economic growth with atrocious demands.
Currently, Nigeria’s broadband penetration stands at 38% with FG planning to increase it to 65% by 2024. For this to be possible, the interest of the government should be more on making RoW free, instead of the price hike its experiencing.