With the emergence of the digital economy, the phrase “Data is the new oil,” which captures the expanding predominance of data, has continued to ring loudly throughout the world.
The market, valued at $187.35 billion in 2020 and projected to reach $517.17 billion by 2030, has become a subject of special consideration by regimes, and it requires appropriate structures and frameworks to tap and optimise the opportunities provided by this new order.
According to the executive vice-chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Prof Umar Danbatta, data center services, no doubt, hold the keys to the ultimate crystalisation of this new line of thinking within the ICT sector and by extension to the greater national economy of nations in so many ways.
Danbatta averred that recent developments point to the limitless treasure within this space, even as he disclosed that Africa has recently assumed a new frontier and compelling destination for global Big Tech players.
“These include such giants as Google with its Equiano subsea fiber cable spanning 15,000 km from Portugal to South Africa with strategic landing points in Nigeria and Namibia and expected to increase connectivity more than five-fold within Nigeria while creating an expected 1.6 million jobs. Also, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is equally at the threshold of launching its own subsea cable called 2Africa in 2024 to connect 16 African countries at an estimated cost of $1 billion. It is targeted to generate close to $36 billion of economic output within two to three years of operation,” he further disclosed.
These will undoubtedly have a huge socio-economic impact on Nigeria, but they also highlight the issue of digital sovereignty and the demand for national legal and policy frameworks to further localise data and traffic.
NCC’s Efforts In Positioning Nigeria
NCC by the provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 (NCA 2003), has as part of its responsibility, the regulation of the Telecommunications Sector, as a critical driver of the Digital Economy in Nigeria.
Danbatta, while delivering his keynote address at the fourth annual Telecommunications Sector Sustainability Forum (TSSF), averred that there is a need to improve the security and reliability of the nation’s digital infrastructure. “The nature and functional model of data centers with special regard to its centralised architecture, with compelling assurance provides a greater guarantee against various malicious attacks and unauthorised access to sensitive information.
“This is in addition to the efficiency engendered by the robust economies of scale through critical resources shared and made available by Data Centers. Operators within the Data Center space must ensure that the well-established and globally accepted tripods of confidentiality, integrity, and availability are so seamlessly provided for uptake by users in the most economical way,” he stated.
To position Nigeria into benefiting from the data center market boom, the EVC, who was represented at the event by the head, Tariff Administration at NCC, Dr. Sunday Atu, revealed that the federal government of Nigeria has taken laudable steps to encourage and support data center services in the country in its drive to ensure data sovereignty.
This is encapsulated in the National Digital Economy Policy Strategy (NDEPS) Pillar #3 on Solid Infrastructure, which states that; The Government will Promote the Development and Deployment of robust and scalable data center infrastructure, he stated.
“It, therefore, goes to show that these centers, and their potential to attract foreign investment remain massive. The global data center market is worth billions of dollars, and Nigeria is well-positioned to attract a fair share of this investment.
“By providing a reliable and secure environment for the services they offer within a well-nurtured policy and regulatory framework, Nigeria represents an attractive destination for more investment in data center services and operations. The implication of such investments on jobs in the construction, operation, and maintenance of these data centers can only be imagined,” Danbatta posited.
With the recognition of the new place of data within the ecosystem, the Commission had proactively taken steps leading to an active functioning market that brought about competition and improved quality of service, with appropriate regulatory measures to guide the industry in determining cost-based transmission trunk link rates and mobile access networks, Danbatta revealed, while adding that NCC has also carried out an extensive assessment of the broadband value chain, including the analysis of market features such as ecosystem mapping, pricing, technology, regulatory climate, and competition.
“These efforts have led to a reduction in data prices in the mobile sector, including the rapid expansion of non-voice service portfolios that created new revenue streams for network and data center operators. Infrastructure outsourcing and colocation have also created a positive impact on operators’ profitability with increased expansion to underserved rural areas towards increased user experience and greater data capture. Also, more spectrum release for 5G services has further lowered costs of providing mobile broadband services.
“Additionally, the recent conclusion of the framework and licensing of Mobile Virtual Network Operators represents another big bang in the industry after the launch of GSM in 2001. This is expected to engender greater expansion, more reach, and additional choice to consumers in addition to enhanced service uptake on Data Center Operations,” he stated.
The advent of data centers also calls for the expansion of digital platforms across e-commerce, banking, education, entertainment, health, and government. It also calls for increased rollout of Fiber infrastructure across metropolitan areas, especially Fiber-to-Base stations required to support the surge in bandwidth demand.
Danbatta averred that the transformation in the Nigerian macro-economy underpinned by developments in the broadband space, such as subscriber growth, improvements in digital literacy, and the proliferation of relevant content, all point to positive fundamentals for the Broadband Landscape in Nigeria.
These factors combined with the increasing global recognition of broadband as a critical infrastructure and socio-economic tool for national growth present an imperative for Nigeria to sharpen its focus on broadband development and increasing support for Data Center Services in Nigeria, he disclosed.
He called for collaborative effort to ensure data centers not only operate to guarantee national Digital sovereignty but are able to prioritize contents reflecting Nigeria’s cultural norms, contexts, and ideological values while reaping the attendant socio-economic benefits within the value chain.
Danbatta, however, assured that the Commission will continue to facilitate and support its licensees, as major stakeholders, to continue to explore additional frontiers of expansion and greater opportunities for investment within the data center space, while also ensuring strict adherence to data protection regulations.
While giving his remark, the national commissioner of Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB), Dr. Vincent Olatunji, assured that the Nigeria Data Protection Commission will give recognitions around data organization, as this is the way to ensure that Nigeria peaks from the gross data economy.
“Our role as a regulatory agency is to ensure that data or data subjects or personal data are collected fairly, transparently, and they are used only for the purposes on which they are being collected. This is very key if investors must have trust in whatever infrastructure we are putting in place for data centers,” he stated.
Olatunji, who was represented by the head, Legal, Enforcement, and Regulations Team at NDPB, Barrister Babatunde Bamigboye, however, applauded the organiser for bringing up this forum at this point. “The digital economy in Nigeria is growing. It is a collective responsibility for all of us in Data collection, stakeholders, and regulators and as well as those who wish to establish Data centers, to contribute to its growth,” he averred.
In her remarks, the convener of TSSF, Bukola Olanrewaju, said data centers play a pivotal role in the digital era and are beyond data storage and accessibility. According to her, data centers underpinned the digital world, fueling economic growth, environmental sustainability, and data security.
Olanrewaju said currently, there were only 86 colocation data centers in 15 African countries, with the majority concentrated in the big four African countries, which included South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, while affirming that data centers alongside fiber-optic broadband expansion and telecom towers are poised to become the new backbone of Africa’s economic growth. She, therefore, called for more investment in these emerging digital infrastructures, which can boost the economy of Nigeria and Africa at large.