The Vice President, Nigeria Internet Registration Association, Mr. Muhammed Rudman, believes that internet penetration and development in every part of Nigeria can be achieved, if there is drop in the cost of internet and exchange point across the country. In this interview with OLA AKINOLA, the Chief Executive Officer of Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria states that governments at all levels should localise internet. Excerpts:
Some critics believe that internet in Nigeria is meant for the rich. What efforts are operators/providers making to ensure internet penetration and development in the country?
It is a fact that the cost of accessing internet is expensive in Nigeria and it is important for operators to join forces to drop the cost of internet and exchange point in the country. The effort is all about localising internet traffic and as long as it is local, the cost will significantly drop. The cost of internet is really expensive in Nigeria, because we have to find a way of reaching the content.
How can that be achieved?
When you talk of internet, you are talking of two kinds of networks - high ball network and content network. Highball networks are the ones subscribers get from providers such as MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat, among others. The people who use that network browse for information and that information is with content providers and those content providers are Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, among others. But because most of them are not in Nigeria, the people browsing will have to find a way to reach that content, the farther the content is away from the user, the more expensive it is. For example, Nigeria is importing rice, which is why it is expensive. Ordinarily, in countries that produce it, it is cheaper. So, what we are doing at Exchange Point is that we are trying to bring more content into Nigeria and by doing that; it means the cost of internet will drop.
What effort is the government making to localise Internet exchange in Nigeria?
The governments at different levels are trying in making sure that internet is localised. For example, governments have decided to move all their website from .com, .org to .ng. If you remember in those days, the Central Bank of Nigeria and Economic and Financial Crime Commission were using .org but now, almost all of them have moved to .gov.ng. Almost all government officials are now using official e-mail instead of yahoo. The next thing is to push for those information to be hosted locally and some of them are already doing that; so, there is need for more agencies to move their content back into the country, especially these days that dollar is quite high and to reduce the pressure on dollar, government must push that all the information, especially sovereign information - the information that is critical for government, military and so on, should be hosted within Nigeria.
On our part, wherever we are, we encourage localising the internet in those higher institutions of learning, because the NREN is mostly for federal universities and you know in Nigeria, we have state and private universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other research institutes
What is NIRA doing to address this?
We have concluded with the Nigerian Communication Commission and they are trying to pay for the cyber link between Lagos and Abuja and also Lagos and Port-Harcourt. This will ensure that service providers within our universities, colleges of education in those locations can connect to the Exchange Point in Lagos at much subsidised rate, so this will increase the localisation of the traffic that we have been talking about.
Is the 30 percent broadband penetration by 2018 realistic?
Honestly, it is achievable, but we don’t sell internet to end users. The 30 percent we are talking about is 30 percent of our population; we are just inter-connecting service providers within Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt. It will take the service providers to now deliver the information linked to the end users and based on the plan on ground now, it is achievable. As you can see already, Glo has moved to 4G, so, others are in the pipeline, I believe that the congestion will reduce in the network and the quality of service will improve, therefore, it is possible to achieve the 30 percent penetration by 2018.
How can educational institutions benefit from the local penetration?
Honestly, talking about educational institutions, it is a gradual process. The Nigerian Universities Commission has already activated National Research and Educational Network to inter-connect federal universities and to give them internet access, even though, they have had series of challenges, but that is one of the initiatives. On our own part, wherever we are, we encourage localising the internet in those higher institutions of learning, because the NREN is mostly for federal universities and you know in Nigeria, we have state and private universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other research institutes. So, wherever we are, we encourage those educational institutions to connect, so that they can connect each other. But unfortunately, the ones we have in Abuja, Port-Harcourt have been in pipeline for sometimes now and there was no fibre link to connect them. Now, with what NCC is doing, they are going to be inter-connected; which means that those educational institutions can start hosting their information within Nigeria. The beauty of it is that we have good data centers in Nigeria.
What role is your company playing in achieving this tall dream?
Our hope is that very soon, before the end of this year, we will have Abuja and Port-Harcourt connected to Lagos and therefore, those small service providers can take advantage of what is happening right now in Lagos. Also, we are working to be what is called the regional Internet Exchange Point for West Africa and we hope that by the end of the first quarter of next year, we would have concluded with that and one or two West African nations would have connected to Nigeria.