Investment in Infrastructure: The GOtv Nigeria Example

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Investing in Nigeria, as every prospective investor is aware, promises enormous dividends. On account of the country’s huge population, the largest on the continent, there is a vast market for any product or service. This makes investment commitment in Nigeria so appealing.

But reaping the dividends available from the large market, in most cases, requires the investor to face and surmount numerous intense challenges such as high operating costs, policy instability and often declining disposable income, which inhibits effective demand.

GOtv Nigeria

The requirements are much stiffer for investors with long-term investment commitments, who have to confront the country’s notoriously acute infrastructural deficit and fill the gaping gaps-all by themselves-and continue to do so.

To take on the infrastructural challenges, particularly of the technological variety, requires near-blind faith in Nigeria and, of course, money. Tonnes of it, that is.

This is what I have seen with the approach of GOtv Nigeria, the country’s second digital terrestrial television (DTT) service provider, which launched in 2011. The operator was, so to speak, condemned to take the route it has taken, as it was a pioneer on a few fronts.

It arrived at a time that migration from the analogue to the digital broadcasting platform had become a major programme for around the globe, following the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) agreement of 2006 of which Nigeria was a signatory.

It also coincided with the initial expression of the Federal Government’s interest in getting the country on the digital broadcasting train. In line with Nigeria’s aspiration to be part of the new broadcasting ecosystem, GOtv Nigeria launched with the DVB-T2 decoder, the second-generation, ITU-approved hardware for digital television broadcasting.

This made the DTT operator the first in the country to offer its subscribers the most modern broadcast technology which, unlike analogue, delivers premium audio-visual quality and a higher number of channels, including access to Free-to-Air at the expiration of the subscription, as well as preventing signal depreciation in adverse weather conditions.

The hardware (decoder and antenna) also offered ease of installation, as it can self-installed, making the use of an installer not absolutely necessary. With additional television channels, the new technology offers also came audio channels, at no extra cost to the subscriber, on the GOtv platform. These came with the launch of Wazobia FM and Naija FM, making it the first DTT operator to carry such on its platform.

Further support for Nigeria’s digital transition aspirations also came in the shape of commitment to ramping up public awareness of the programme, with GOtv Nigeria becoming the first DTT operator to support of National Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) digital migration flag-off in Jos, with “Digilevelz Don Land, No Carry Last” campaign, which covered 26 cities across the country.

Making all of these available to the subscriber was no cakewalk. Nothing of the sort is ever is, I have to add. Mallam Ishaq Modibbo-Kawu, former Director-General of the NBC, famously noted that a major impediment to DTT network coverage in states where the digital transition programme of the Federal Government had been launched was topography.

“Coverage is related to topography. Take an example of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It is a city of hills and undulating grounds. The signal distributor for Abuja has purchased feeder pillar transmitters, which will be installed for the entire Abuja and environs to be covered.

The same thing applies in Plateau. The signal distributor has to put feeder pillar transmitter in places like Langtang for the entire state to be covered,” Modibo-Kawu explained at the time.

Topographical hindrances were exactly what GOtv subscribers did not have to endure because the operator, running on the digital platform from the off, had already rolled out in about 50 cities across 26 states across the country. To make the service available to subscribers in zones across the country took heavy investments in digital transmission technology infrastructure.

In four years, 2011 to 2015, a hefty sum of $95.5million was sunk into the erection of 73 transmitter sites. The transmitter sites make available DTT network coverage for more than 50 per cent of the country’s population.

To maintain the transmitter sites, which number grew as time went on, for effective transmission, the sum of N8, 178, 372, 223. 40 was spent on between 2014 and 2018.  In 2014 alone, N572.2million was spent. The following year, the sum rose to N1.39billion.

It would climb, respectively, to N1.9billion in 2016, N2.033billion in 2017 and N2.28 billion in 2018. The heavy lashings of money have ensured subscriber access to the operator’s service in about 70 cities across the country, making it, by a distance, the most expansive DTT network coverage in the country.

It is to this wide network coverage that the two companies licensed as signal distributors by the under the Federal Government’s digital switchover programme are playing catch-up and may do so for much longer, given how sparse their respective coverage has been in about five years since they started operations.

Experts have blamed their inability to provide sustainable nationwide DTT coverage on a lack of finance and technical capacities. I am tempted to agree with the diagnosis.

The internet is brimming with complaints by Nigerians who have purchased the device recommended by NBC as its digital transition vehicle. In states where the switchover programme has been launched, the complaints have been heavy on partial or total lack of reception, making their set-top-boxes into something acquired for decorative purposes.

In most of the states, the signal is received only in the state capitals, leaving residents out of them out in the lurch. There are subscribers, who have complained of non-receipt of signal for as long as six months, as infrastructure provided by signal carriers have remained grossly sup-par.

Along with these investments in transmission, infrastructure has been similarly hefty outlays in the shape of regulatory fees. In 2019, Details Nigeria, promoters of GOtv Nigeria, paid N1.5billion to NBC for the renewal of its DTT licence for another three-year period.

It also paid the sum of N50million for the renewal of its Direct-to-Home (DTH) licence for another five years. In 2014, it paid N2billion for a five-year DTT licence and N50 million for the renewal of its DTH licence for a further five-year period.

The various sums invested in the provision and maintenance of broadcast infrastructure as well as regulatory levies are exclusive of what was invested in bringing digital broadcasting to Nigeria.

Palang Yakubu, a public affairs commentator, writes from Jos