Posted by: africanpressorganization | 14 October 2009

Statement by the deputy secretary general of the East African Community in charge of infrastructure and planning, Mr. Alloys Mutabingwa, on matters relating to the East African regional fibre backbone and underwater submarine cables

 

 


 

 

Statement by the deputy secretary general of the East African Community in charge of infrastructure and planning, Mr. Alloys Mutabingwa, on matters relating to the East African regional fibre backbone and underwater submarine cables

 

 

ARUSHA, Tanzania, October 14, 2009/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Statement by the deputy secretary general of the East African Community in charge of infrastructure and planning, Mr. Alloys Mutabingwa, on matters relating to the East African regional fibre backbone and underwater submarine cables

 

 

Introduction

There has been a lot said in the press with regards to the fibre connectivity, both within the region and in relation to the international gateway connecting to the international fibre. The East African Community (EAC) holds the view that, these statements have not paid adequate attention to the overall picture of connecting our region within and to the rest of the world in order to realise the desired economic benefits.

 

Background

The EAC recalls that in October 2007, the World ITU Summit, known as the first Connect Africa Summit. The Summit was hosted by H.E. Mr. Paul KAGAME, President of the Republic of Rwanda, bringing together Heads of State, Heads of Governments and prominent leaders, namely, H.E. Mr. Mr. Blaise COMPARE, President of Burkina Faso, H.E. Mr. Ismail Omar GUELLEH, President of Djibouti, H.E. Mr. Abdoulaye WADE, President of Senegal, H.E. Mr. Mr. Pierre NKURUNZIZA, President of Burundi, H.E. Mr. Bingu Wa MUTHARIKA, President of Malawi, H.E. Ms. Constance SIMELANE, Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland and H.E. Mr. Beer CHARLES, President of State Council of the Republic of the Canton de Genève, Mr. Sha ZUKANG, United Nations Under-Secretary General on Economic and Social Affairs representing the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Hamadoun I. TOURE, Secretary-General of the ITU, Dr. Craig BARETT, Chairman of Intel and UN-GAID(UN Global Alliance for ICT & Development), Dr. Donald KABERUKA, President of the African Development Bank and Prof. Alpha Oumar KONARE, Chairperson at that time of the African Union Commission

 

Connect Africa Summit was a global multi-stakeholder partnership to mobilize the human, financial and technical resources required to bridge major gaps in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure across the region and linking with the rest of the globe. Emphasis was laid on the need for supporting affordable connectivity and applications and services to stimulate economic growth, employment and development throughout Africa. The private sector was called upon to play a more visible role in the pursuit of this vision, and where necessary, there would also be a private-public-partnership to spur this development. In that light, the following goals were put forth for implementation:

 

Summit Resolutions for Africa

Goal 1: Interconnect all African capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012.

Goal 2: Connect African villages to broadband ICT services by 2015 and implement shared access initiatives such as community tele-centres and village phones.

Goal 3: Adopt key regulatory measures that promote affordable, widespread access to a full range of broadband ICT services, including technology and service neutral licensing/authorization practices, allocating spectrum for multiple, competitive broadband wireless service providers, creating national Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and implementing competition in the provision of international Internet connectivity.

Goal 4: Support the development of a critical mass of ICT skills required by the knowledge economy, notably through the establishment of a network of ICT Centres of Excellence in each sub-region of Africa and ICT capacity-building and training centres in each country, with the aim of achieving a broad network of inter-linked physical and virtual centres, while ensuring coordination between academia and industry by 2015.

Goal 5: Adopt a national e-strategy, including a cyber-security framework, and deploy at least one flagship e-government service as well as e-education, e-commerce and e-health services using accessible technologies in each country in Africa by 2012, with the aim of making multiple e-government and other e-services widely available by 2015.

 

To help achieve the Connect Africa Summit Goals, many participants announced major commitments on the occasion of the Summit, totaling to about $55 Billion, including:

Mobile operators of the GSM Association announced the provision of $50 Billion between now and 2012 in new investment across the continent to expand and upgrade networks. This builds on more than $35 Billion invested in recent years in Sub-Saharan Africa;

The World Bank Group announced that it expects to double its commitment to ICT in Africa to US$2 billion per year by 2012 from its current investment program of US$1 billion per year, over the last five years.

The European Commission announced that the EU-Africa Partnership for Infrastructure has been established to support trans-African networks that facilitate interconnectivity.

African Development Bank has scaled up its investments in infrastructure, and is expecting to invest 60% of its concessional resources on infrastructure, including ICT, in the next three years.

New Centres of Excellence (in support of Goal 4) were announced ( Rwanda and Tunisia with African Development Bank). Spain also announced a 1 million Euro contribution to ITU for the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries in Africa, as well as ICT scholarships and internships for youth and support for ICT training centres.

 

 

The EAC and Connecting the Region

The benefits of greater bandwidth at low costs are enormous. In our region, the East African Community (EAC), with its key partners like the ITU, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, the European Union, to name a few, are collaborating in putting in place modalities that would lead to interconnecting our capitals and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world. The realization of this target is set for 2012.

With such a clear vision and strategic direction, commercial entities like SEACOM, other Consortia like TEAMS (to land in November), and the Private-Public-Partnership of EASSy (to land early in 2010), are playing an important role in achieving Goals 1 and 2 above directly or indirectly.

The EAC is cognizant of the fact that, in any venture, there will inevitably be some “teething” problems, which will however be sorted out in due time. For instance, it was expected that the price of connectivity for the end-user would drop drastically, but this does not appear to be forthcoming in the short-run. As more investors gain interest in this area, and as consumers (end-users) get more organized; the market problem will undoubtedly be mitigated given the market regulatory framework existing in all partner states of EAC.

Naturally, any commercial venture seeks a Return on Investment (ROI) within the quickest possible time, but the EAC notes that, investment in creating a fibre backbone at any level is an investment in long term infrastructure deployment that is supposed to reap benefits now and for the future generations of our region. In the world of international fibre cables, leasing or temporary ownership, of duct fibre capacity is based on Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU) and this lease is generally granted for a period of between 15 to 20 years, and fees charged based on this time frame.

 

The Way Forward

While the above fibre backbones address Goal 1, the EAC finds the need to make sure fibre goes to the rural areas of our region, as per Goal 2. The EAC is working with the partner states to achieve this goal. The roll-out of fibre to the rural areas is on-going. It is hoped that the private sector will play a role in the last-mile initiatives in the rural sectors, instead of concentrating in the urban centres only.

Nevertheless, the EAC has listened with keen interest to what its constituents have to say, particularly the recent press analysis and is poised to address these issues. The EAC believes in fair competition that results in a “win-win” situation for the investor, operator and consumer.

The EAC partner states and all other stakeholders mention above are still looking into all possible ways of achieving the desired goals of connecting into the international fibre. A balance will have to be sought between long term investments for the development in our region versus a quick return on investments that may have adverse effect on consumer prices. The existing regulatory framework may have to be revisited in bid to address the issue. A number of options may also be explored, for example an option whereby international gateways for the submarine cables landing stations may have to be shared.

The issue of “rights of way” and how Open Access is managed requires a joint regulatory framework, which the EAC is working to address together with the regulators in the region. The EAC is of the belief that Open Access should allow the end-user to access the services offered on the fibre backbone.

At a regional level, consumers(end-users) may find it advisable to set up a Consumer Advocacy Group, that would play a role in coming up with proposals for harmonization of services, fees, quality of content and services, fair competition to name a few. The competitive pricing of products and services at a wholesale and retail level is not an easy matter, and the EAC hopes that this could be achieved through competition, with a nudge from a regulatory framework. This should make affordable access for the majority of end-users a reality.

Goals 3 and 4 address the issue of content, human resource capacity building and innovation for poverty alleviation, beyond basic e-mail, browsing and research. This will allow for the entry of new services, like cable TV, ability to do efficient Business Processing Operations, to name a few. Centres of Excellence would churn out expertise to maintain the infrastructure and innovate on products and services. With regards to Goal 5 the EAC has just concluded a technical meeting on security fibre security so that our systems are always protected and not used for malicious purposes.

 

SOURCE 

East African Community (EAC)


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