Comtel project stalls as countries go their own way

The proposed African multinational broadband project, Comtel, has stalled as individual member countries develop their own regional telecommunication infrastructures.

Zambia, Kenya and Botswana have launched information and communication technology projects to enhance regional connectivity, following Comtel's failure to build its planned regional infrastructure and provide services. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), based in Lusaka and chartered to accelerate Eastern and Southern Africa's economic growth, is the force behind the Comtel project.

Zambia Telecommunication Co. Managing Director Simon Tembo said last week that the company would complete infrastructure development to cater to international traffic by September 2008. The project, costing US$48 million, will begin in April.

"The Zambian Telecommunication Company is this year installing a national optic-fiber backbone network, which will connect to the East Africa submarine cable system [EASSY] to cater to increasing demand for transmission capacity both national and international traffic," Tembo said.

The Botswana government, through the Botswana Telecommunication Corp. (BTC), a national communications utility, this month launched a trans-Kalahari project that will provide telecom services to countries in the region that were to be serviced by the Comtel project.

"The trans-Kalahari project will also connect the EASSY project to ensure connectivity with Zambia and Namibia to form a resilient fibre backbone, which will carry all forms of technologies," Botswana Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Pelomoni Venson-Moitoi said recently.

The Kenyan government has also announced it would soon start constructing a fiber network.

The Comtel project was supposed to be operational by the third quarter of this year at a cost of $30 million, according to Comesa Assistant Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya.

But Comesa officials are tight-lipped about providing information about why the project has failed to kick off despite initial funding. National telecom operators (NTOs) from 21 countries in Africa agreed to coordinate pricing and network infrastructures through Comtel in order to lower the region's high telecommunication costs.

Comtel, however, has made no progress after the Anderberg-Ericsson Consortium decided to withdraw from the project in 2005. It never found a new equity partner. Anderberg-Ericsson withdrew from Comtel after saying that it would not continue with only a 30 percent stake in the project.

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