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First things first: Nigeria needs a regulatory framework to continue digital migration

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Par LC pour APCNews

CALGARY, Canada, 31 October 2011

As one of Africa’s most liberalised broadcasting and telecoms markets, Nigeria has been ahead of the game when it comes to digital broadcast migration, setting itself the bold self-imposed target of completing the migration by June 2012. But a new report from APC written by ICT expert Fola Odufuwa warns that Nigeria is unlikely to meet the target and that a serious shift in priorities is needed to even meet the obligatory 2015 target for all of West African nations.

Odufuwa suspects that Nigeria’s current overly-relaxed approach could be due to the fact that while a good deal of work has already been done – formulating national policies, developing migration strategies, and setting up high-powered Digital Implementation Team – the non-promulgation of enabling laws for the digital age, which is only a few weeks away, is of concern. Currently, efforts towards aggressively achieveing set deadlines appear feeble, though the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is already promoting the transmission of digital signals through direct-to-home connections, private broadcasters have begun to replace their equipment, certain digital standards are being set, and new broadcasting and signal distribution models are currently being designed.

Yet things have come to a standstill according to Odufuwa’s analysis and if Nigeria wants to meet even the 2015 target, the approval of a regulatory framework for migration is essential to getting things moving again.

Politics are getting in the way of policy

President Jonathan Goodluck recently announced the government’s commitment to speeding up the migration. “But with recent general elections this past April, the bulk of the year has been spent ‘politicking’ and the new government is only just starting to settle down,” explains Odufuwa.

“The bill which establishes the regulatory framework and legal basis for the upcoming process has to be passed by parliament, so parliament is currently a stumbling block because nothing is happening there. Digital migration in Nigeria is in limbo.”

Show me the money: Funding still needed

A second stumbling block is funding, Odufuwa tells APC. Funding needs to be put in place to purchase equipment including set top boxes however the fiscal year in Nigeria runs from January to December.

“As soon as we start getting into the “’ember” months [September onwards], ministries are scrambling to ensure that all the money from the 2011 budget is spent, so they aren’t prioritising the 2012 budget which hasn’t even been established yet. And the budget can not be put not be put in place until the framework bill is passed,” says Odufuwa.

While TV stations themselves need money to complete their installation process, set top boxes for the people of Nigeria stand high on the priority list. Public stations receive about 70% of their funding through advertisements and marketing, and the government foots the remaining 30% for capital expenditures and recurrent expenses.

“Digitalisation is essentially a capital expense,” Odufuwa puts forth. “The capital exposure to the public stations will require government funding – but at the moment the funding is not in place for it, so the law needs to be passed so these can be included in the budget.”

Merging regulators

There is currently huge pressure to consolidate the two existing regulators, the Nigeria Communications Commission (which focuses on telecoms) and the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission (which is the national broadcaster). Plans to merge the two and form a Ministry and Commission of Communications Technology, where technology would have its own ministry for the very first time, have been met with some resistance.

The merger would facilitate the transition to digital broadcast migration. “At the moment, if you need to broadcast something, you need to get a license from the broadcasting regulator, and then another one from the telecommunications regulator. It would be much more efficient to obtain one license from a single body,” he explains.

But this idea is being met with some opposition. Odufuwa likens the merge to merging two corporations together. “How does one decide who would be the new CEO?” he asks. So, while merging the two regulatory bodies would certainly be more efficient and follows best practices and standards set in Europe and the West, Odufuwa has his doubts that the process will go smoothly in Nigeria.

So in this current pre-merger phase, questions remain. New content licenses need to be issued, new signal distributions, and the harmonisation of existing licenses also needs to take place and noone knows which body currently does what.

All will fall into place

Like most other ICT experts APCNews has interviewed in our digital migration series, he believes that there are too many benefits to the transition not to move forward with it and Nigerians will lose out out if the government does not move on this.

“Most African countries have a “fire brigade” approach to things. Everyone will likely be running around at the last minute trying to comply, but as of today, not much is being done to meet the 2015 deadline,” he says.

As a consequence none of Nigeria’s private stations have migrated to digital because the of framework hold-up. Odufuwa predicts that once the bottleneck is cleared, signal broadcasters and TV stations will have the green light to move ahead with the transition, and the public, which has until now been largely unaware of the transition, will also be notified.

Market awareness is very low, if there is any at all. “But notifying the market is one of the last steps in the transition process,” says Odufuwa. “Now only seven to eight months away from to the self-imposed deadline, customers should already be aware of the transition. For this reason, the deadline will likely be moved or simply won’t be met.”

“The sooner Nigeria migrates, the sooner we can reap the digital dividend – the freed spectrum frequencies that companies can use to offer more competitive internet and mobile access,” he says.

“But it looks like Nigeria is heading for a 2015 deadline along with the rest of the West African countries.”

This article was written as part of APC’s work on Digital Migration in West Africa and was based on the report by Fola Odufuwa, Digital broadcast migration in West Africa Nigeria Research Report. Read other reports and articles on the digital migration in Africa .

Photo by kigaliwire. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0

(FIN/2011)

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