Construction starts on Africa's EASSY cable network

Construction of the East Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSY) project got under way Friday, after being delayed for almost two years by squabbling by project members and a lack of financial resources.

The South African government initially denied the EASSY project a landing point, claiming South African companies including Mobile Telecommunication should have additional shares in the project. The South African government has since allowed the project a landing point in the country.

Project managers and a consortium of operators formed to operate the cable have also agreed that the cable will be run on an open- access basis, so that all service providers in the region would have access to the bandwidth on equal terms.

The EASSY project consortium wanted to allow only service providers with international gateway licenses to become network members. But the World Bank and other international development agencies feared that if service providers with international gateway licenses were the only ones allowed to acquire the bandwidth, they would form a cartel. This could result in high cost for users.

The construction of the cable has been made possible by the project developers, who secured all the necessary financing,

EASSY Project Secretariat Simon Olawo said this week.

The US$280 million project is being financed by a consortium of telecom companies including MTN of South Africa and Uganda Telecommunication, with extra funding coming from international banks including Development Bank of France (DBF), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the International Financing Corp (World Bank) and the Development Bank of Germany (KfW).

The 10,500 Km cable will run under the Indian Ocean from Durban, South Africa, to Port Sudan in Sudan and then to Europe. The cable will provide connectivity to several African countries along the coast, where it will have landing points. It will also include landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi and Rwanda via backbone networks that will be developed by participating companies.

The project is supposed to be operational in the last quarter of 2009 and is expected to bring faster Internet and telecommunication services to the region. The Eastern and Southern African regions are among the few areas of the world that still rely on satellite telecommunication. Satellite technology is blamed for the high cost of telecom and slow Internet connectivity in the region.

The goal of the cable is to support an increase in traffic and new broadband services, and connect Africa to the rest of the world.

"The completion of the cable will bring much-awaited high speed and wideband information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in the region," Olawo said.

Alcatel-Lucent has been awarded the contract to lay the cable. Several service providers in the region are also laying national cables to be connected to the EASSY project.

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