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OPEN ACCESS: Lowering the costs of international bandwidth in Africa

By Mike Jensen

Association for Progressive Communications | October 2006

Fiberoptic cable.

Association for Progressive Communications "Issue Papers" Series 2006

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5

Bandwidth is the life-blood of the world’s knowledge economy, but it is scarcest where it is most needed—in the developing nations of Africa which require low-cost communications to accelerate their socioeconomic development. Few schools, libraries, universities and research centres on the continent have any internet access. For those that can afford it, their costs are usually thousands of times higher than for their counterparts in the developed world, and even Africa’s most well-endowed centres of excellence have less bandwidth than a home broadband user in North America or Europe, and it must be shared amongst hundreds or even thousands of users.

A variety of factors are responsible for this situation, but the biggest cause is the high cost of international connections to the global telecommunication backbones. This is mainly the result of the lack of international optic fibre infrastructure, which is necessary to deliver sufficient volumes of low-cost bandwidth, and the consequent dependency on much more expensive satellite bandwidth. Less than twenty of the 54 African countries have international optic fibre cable connections, and these are currently controlled by inefficient state-owned operators which charge monopoly prices while neglecting to build the national backbones needed to carry local and international traffic. As a result, circuits from Africa to the US or Europe usually cost more than US$5000 a month, while cross-Atlantic links between North America and Europe can now be obtained for US$2.5/Mbps/month and for US$16–30/ Mpbs/month on international routes in Asia.

The only large-scale international fibre link in Africa (SAT-3/WASC/SAFE) connects eight countries on the west coast of the continent to Europe and the Far East. Operating as a cartel of monopoly state-owned telecommunication providers, prices have barely come down since it began operating in 2002. New fibre projects have been proposed which could break this monopoly and add many more African countries to the global grid, but most of these projects are also being developed by state-owned telecom operators. As a result they are following the same high-priced SAT-3 business model. Unless interventions are made to reduce the cost of these existing international fibre links and to ensure that new fibre infrastructure is quickly built, the continent will be prevented from tapping its latent potential and will fall further behind the rest of the world.

External Link: OPEN ACCESS: Lowering the costs of international bandwidth in Africa

Read More: Communication, Development, Technology, Africa

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