Facebook invests in fibre optic cables to improve internet access in Edo StateRuth Torty 19th April 2022 0 COMMENTS
When the Government in Edo State, in the Southern part of Nigeria set about improving poor internet access in the state, they found two partners—MainOne and Facebook.
A joint agreement was signed to install fibre-optic cables running across the state’s capital, Benin City. Since 2019, both companies have committed to laying 750km of fibre-optic cables in Edo and Ogun State. About 400km (250 miles) of cables have been laid in Edo, about a quarter via the partnership between the two companies and the government.
MainOne is a company responsible for laying a vast network of fibre-optic cables across west Africa. Funke Opeke who founded MainOne in 2008 described the public-private partnership in Edo as ‘a model’ for how internet access in Nigeria can be rapidly increased. Opeke also explained that the cables are leased by other telecommunication companies and that this has reduced costs for mobile operators because operators do not have to build their own infrastructure. MainOne, in March, launched fibre infrastructure at Lagos Free Zone.
“We also build to all the critical points of importance for governments so that we’re able to deliver services to them and help their automation. It’s accelerating development and state services to the people – a win-win for the government and the private sector.”
Facebook, on the other hand, has come under different legislative pressure in the West and has recently increased its participation in Africa—particularly in countries with much looser regulations. The company invested $20m in internet infrastructure in the Edo state project.
“Obviously, Facebook isn’t really a digital infrastructure company, but they invested in these cables,” said Emmanuel Eweka who worked as a senior government official for the Edo government until last September.
Nigeria’s fast growing population of more than 100 million people makes it a potential goldmine of new internet users. Companies are hoping to tap into it and help potential customers get online.
“To make internet data more affordable, Facebook needs to build infrastructures that are almost free,” Eweka said. “In fact, I’d say Facebook actually loses in terms of making money out of those cables. But then they gain it back on the user data that they will generate, and obviously that has huge potential in a country like Nigeria.”
Edo has, in recent times, committed to building business and technology hubs, expanding internet access for entrepreneurs, tech workers, government agencies and schools. The Edo Tech Park, launched last November is a largely as-yet-unbuilt project on 200,000sq km of land that developers envision will be the centre of the state’s growing tech ecosystem. The hub will provide “live-in, work apartments, residential and commercial real estate, tech incubators, and offices for rent”.
Moreso, the Edo government is also a beneficiary of the improved internet access in the state. The state’s previously “analogue” civil service now uses a Microsoft-based government portal, according to Eweka, using fibre-optic internet access provided by MainOne and Facebook.
“The level of accountability this system brings is so effective,” Eweka said. “Right now, if a case file is sent to a civil servant from the governor’s office, the governor can see exactly when it is opened, and whether it has been actualised. So the days where you send one file somewhere and it gets lost in the system are gone.”
A Meta spokesperson said the company worked with partners “to drive innovation on all aspects of performance and efficiency” and that its partnership with MainOne had helped bring online training to 2,000 teachers in Edo and connectivity to four schools and their surrounding communities.
Ruth Torty is a biochemist, and freelance science writer. She writes to shed light on health issues, rare diseases and science research in Nigeria. She is also a creative writer and has published on different literary sites including Spillwords and Nnoko Stories. She is passionate about genomics and its role in healthcare.