Physical interconnection of the Central African countries’ fiber optic networks is a key objective of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community’s (CEMAC) Regional Economic Program. By facilitating high-speed communications, these regional networks will make a critical contribution to growth, job creation, and improvement of the sub region’s standard of living.
A workshop was held in Libreville on October 7-8 to define the action plan for achieving this interconnection between the Republic of the Congo and Gabon in 2014. This workshop represents for me, as well as for my colleague Jérôme Bezzina, a key step toward completion of the Central African Backbone (CAB), a World Bank-financed regional integration project on which we have been working since 2011. Over a 48-hour period, we, along with our partners from both countries, examined the technical aspects of this interconnection. Specifically, the fiber optic backbone will be deployed across Gabon over approximately 1,000 kilometers along the Trans-Gabonese Railway between Libreville and Franceville, then along the road from Franceville to Lekoko up to the border. On the Congolese side, the fiber optic backbone will extend approximately 300 kilometers to connect the city of Mayoko to Dolisie and meet the rest of the Congolese fiber optic backbone.
The delegations discussed the number of fiber optic cables to be installed, the type and number of cable connection chambers, the size of the fiber optic cables, etc. They also came to agreement on an approach that would ensure the compatibility of equipments to be installed on both sides of the border so that traffic could be transmitted under optimal conditions.
From a legal and regulatory standpoint, it was decided that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries would be drafted, detailing the objectives targeted with respect to subregional integration, the type of public-private partnership (PPP) established for the fiber optic backbone on both sides of the border, the responsibilities of the various stakeholders, etc. I hope that Jérôme and I will attend the signing of this MoU, to take place by January 2014, in order to enhance the visibility of the private operators that both countries are in the process of selecting to operate, maintain, and commercialize on a wholesale and open access basis these backbone networks. Once selected, most likely during the first quarter of 2014, these private operators will have to sign an interconnection agreement in accordance with regional and national regulatory frameworks, which will naturally cover the financial aspects of the interconnection (type of services, pricing, etc.). By then, the contracts for the construction works of the fiber optic backbone networks will have been awarded.