Trans-African cable project picks up speed

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The East African Submarine cable System (EASSy) has spawned a flurry of debate on the future of broadband in Africa. (And yes, most writers succumb to temptation and include the acronym in one bad pun or another.) EASSy, a huge fibre-optic undersea cable still in the planning stages, promises more immediate access to information and communication technologies in Africa.

The big news is that stakeholders decided last month to operate on an open access model. Open access is good, as it lessens the chances that a cartel of big telecom firms will keep broadband unavailable and expensive. Or as African telecom guru Roland Alden once put it:

The problem with EASSy is not technology; it is about ownership, finance and competition. EASSy is a “cartel” that aspires to be the OPEC of East African telecommunications.

How important is this initiative? Of the twenty coastal and land-locked countries in East and Southern Africa that will benefit from EASSy, only two (South Africa and Mauritius) rank in the top 50 of the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index. Fully half of the affected countries, Malawi for example, don’t even appear on the list of 115.

Alcatel won the $200 million construction contract and should break ground in August. The World Bank and IFC are among those financing the project. Read Ethan Zuckerman for an excellent summary of EASSy’s history. Via Meskel Square.

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