Thursday, March 27, 2008

Africa - undersea cables

Eassy cable project starts construction

Construction on the fibre-optics East African Submarine Cable System (Eassy) project, which would connect 21 African countries to each other and the rest of the world with high-quality Internet and international communications services started on Thursday.

The cable would be installed by Alcatel-Lucent along the sea-bed off Africa's east coast. It was expected to be operational by the first half of 2010.

"We are pleased to work with the Eassy Consortium in laying this new cable that will expand communications capabilities and help reduce the digital divide in the region," said Alcatel-Lucent submarine network activity president Etienne Lafougère.

The supply contract for installation of the cable was now in force. The funds were provided by the consortium of 25 telecommunications operators, of which 19 were African companies.

The operators of the system were Bharti Airtel Limited of India, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation, British Telecommunications, Dalkom of Somalia, Djibouti Telecom SA, Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates, France Telecom, Mauritius Telecom, MTN of South Africa, Neotel of South Africa, Saudi Telecom Company, Comores Telecom, Sudan Telecom Company, Tanzania Telecommunications Company, Telecom Malagasy, Telecommunicacões de Mocambique, Telkom Kenya, Telkom SA Vodacom of South Africa, Zambia Telecommunications Company, Zanzibar Telecom, Uganda Telecom, U-Com Burundi SA, Office National Des Telecommunications of Lesotho, Lesotho Telecommunications Authority, and Gilat Satcom Nigeria.

Five major development finance institutions, namely the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the African Development Bank, the Agence Française de Développement, KfW of Germany, and the European Investment Bank, were partnering to provide the project's long-term loan financing of $70,7-million, with $18,2-million coming from IFC.

The $247,1-million balance of the project cost, would be provided by the Eassy consortium members.

"This is a very important milestone toward implementation of the Eassy cable, which will transform the telecommunications landscape in the region. It will provide Internet and other communications access for 250 million Africans and substantially reduce costs for consumers and businesses," said IFC director for global information and communication technologies Mohsen Khalil.

The cable would run 10 000 km from Africa's southern tip, around the African horn, and into the Red Sea, connecting South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, and Sudan.

The IFC indicated that consumers along Africa's east coast typically paid between $200 and $300 a month for Internet access via satellite.

These prices created a barrier to usage and restricted economic activity and growth. Once the Eassy cable was in place, prices for international connectivity were expected to drop by two-thirds at the outset, and the number of subscribers would increase rapidly.

Because the project would give open access to service providers, prices would fall further as volume and competition increased. This was expected to stimulate the development of new knowledge-based industries, call-centers, and similar ventures. Educational and health activities in the region would also benefit from access to low-cost Internet.

In a separate initiative, the World Bank was assisting with the implementation of regional distribution networks to connect landlocked countries in East Africa to each other and the Eassy cable, helping maximise access.

Another 13 adjoining countries would also be linked to the system as terrestrial backbone networks were completed through the broader World Bank initiative, and these included Botswana, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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