‘Households in 17 states unable to pay for airtime’

•N’Central, West, S’West regions mostly affected

Households in 17 of 33 states in Nigeria are experiencing more difficulty paying for airtime, while in the other 16, Internet data was a trickier expense to meet, a recent survey has revealed.

North Central, North West and South West states were the major areas where the populace are unable to pay for airtime regularly. In fact, most individuals explored network operators ‘borrow credit’ schemes.

Also, households in the North East, South East and South South experienced difficulty paying for Internet services. Further, the North East is the region with the highest share of households that experience difficulty paying for mobile airtime (33 per cent) and the highest share of households that experience difficulty paying for Internet services (41 per cent).

Stears Data, which conducted the survey, noted that despite international statistics, which showed that mobile broadband is relatively affordable in Nigeria, there are still huge gaps to be covered in terms of affordability in the country.

Referencing the 2020 Affordability Report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), which said 1GB mobile broadband costs 1.7 per cent of average monthly income, less than Ghana (two per cent), South Africa (2.2 per cent), and Kenya (3.1 per cent), Stears Data said though the case of affordability may be disputed by Nigerians, facts have shown that many still cannot afford to purchase Internet data regularly.

Comparing household data on mobile airtime affordability, which is generally deemed cheaper in Nigeria, Stears Data said the results were surprising, especially the discovery that Internet and airtime affordability are almost the same.

According to it, at the national level, 17 per cent of surveyed households reported difficulty buying airtime to make calls or send messages, while 16 per cent reported difficulty purchasing Internet for phones or computers.x

Further analysis revealed that the two situations are related, that is the correlation between households that reported difficulty paying for airtime and Internet is 0.7.

In Taraba State, 53 per cent of the sample said they had difficulty paying for mobile airtime, the highest out of 33 states. Likewise, 62 per cent of the sample said they had difficulty paying for mobile airtime, also the highest out of 33 states.

According to the survey, the data revealed what is already known, which is that affordability is a big thing for digital access and digital inclusion. But it also suggested that mobile networks may not be a great substitute for Internet access in Nigeria.

Stears Data pointed out that when the obstacle is Internet coverage, Nigerians may turn to mobile networks and USSD technology to maintain digital access. But when the issue is affordability, the data suggests that those that cannot afford to purchase data probably cannot afford airtime either.

“In short, when the main problem is affordability, mobile network connections are not a viable substitute for households that struggle to afford Internet services,” the survey stated.

Already, the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umaru Danbatta, while referencing the New National Broadband Plan (2020 to 2025), in an interview with The Guardian, said telecommunications subscribers in the country are expected to get one gigabyte (1GB) of data for as low as N390 by 2025.

He assured Nigerians that the commission would do all within its capacity to ensure that the target is met, even before the due date.

According to the NCC boss, between 2015, and now, over 100 million subscribers have been added to the network, indicating that on a daily basis, Nigerians are subscribing to telecoms services.

“I think there are expectations from telecoms subscribers, they want to get value for money. They want the NCC to address the issue of data depletion.

“We have seen data prices coming down reasonably well. We have done a benchmark and found out that the cost of 1Gigabyte of data has come down to about N500, which is more than 50 per cent. This is quite revealing to us.

Remember, we have a target of N390 to hit by 2025, and we are almost there. The N390 is what is in the NNBP 2020 to 2025. We need to do a cost-based study because it is much more scientific. Bench-marking is an interim measure, and we are saying that the cost of data has come down to more than 50 per cent it was at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. By 2025, it should further come down to N390 per one gigabyte,” he said.

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