Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tanzania: The SEACOM cable is being switched on, but the expected fall in prices for international traffic is still awaited

[The citizen] To what extent will the Seacom cable benefit Tanzanians living far from Dar es Salaam, is the question that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts grapple with, as President Jakaya Kikwete officially switches on the much-anticipated cable in Dar es Salaam today.

Seacom directors say everything on how the $600 million cable venture is going to help lower internet charges, will be made clear today as experts ponder on the time when the charges are to be lowered.

"We will make everything clear tomorrow (today) in the afternoon as soon as the president switches the cable on under all circumstances, internet charges will have to go down," a director with Seacom, Mr Michael Njumba told The Citizen yesterday.

Currently, the use of satellite communication costs about $300 per megabyte per second, but it is expected to drop to $100 when the use of fibre optic cables sets in.

But even as the public anticipates a lot from the project, experts say the benefits may take long because some 'procedures' must be dealt with before the country gets much-anticipated faster, cheaper and convenient broadband Internet data transfers.

"In places like Mwanza for example, we have nothing to expect from the project at present we're very far from Dar es Salaam and this means that it will take time for us to be connected to the cable in Dar es Salaam,"Mr Hirnoy Barmeda, a Mwanza-based ICT expert told The Citizen yesterday.

The matter of concern is whether Seacom and existing fibre owners have had talks regarding the issue of inland network development.

"If they are yet to agree on this and if the service will not reach the majority of people out of Dar es Salaam, then the whole project might not be that helpful but I hope, the Government and Seacom would do something on that aspect,"said Mr Barmeda.

At a recent launch of Vodaworld magazine, ICT director who also oversees the installation of the cable system, Dr Yona Zaipuna, was quoted saying the arrival of the cable would effectively reduce the cost of internet access as international bandwidth will become cheaper, leading to reductions of charges to end users.

He however, noted that existing Internet service providers will have to base their charges on other factors infrastructural charges, marketing charges and distribution charges.

This means that the Government might not be directly involved in regulating the charges.

According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority director general, Prof John Nkoma, the regulatory authority will only come in when the market fails to regulate itself.

"TCRA will only regulate wholesale internet prices (from Seacom to ISPs) and only if the market fails to regulate itself otherwise, retail prices are left to be controlled by individual ISPs,"he told The Citizen by phone early last week.

With completion of the project in South Africa, Telkom South Africa announced recently that its prices were now almost in line with Seacom's forthcoming prices as reports indicate that prices were also beginning to drop in Namibia.

And according to Mr Barmeda, prices might drop in Tanzania as well only when some entrepreneurs venture into the business. "It is vivid that some entrepreneurs are going to take that as a business opportunity this will result into an increased number of ISPs in the market, a situation that will spur competition among ISPs, hence charges will go down.

However, the questions of when the new prices will come to force and to what extent will the cable bring charges down cannot be predicted,"said Mr Marmeda.

JK to Switch On Seacom Cable Today

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