Affordable bandwidth, still Africa's distant dream
GOA, INDIA, 26 February 2006
Achieving affordable bandwidth still remains a major concern for Africa. A workshop in Senegal – organised by the Open Society Institute of West Africa (OSIWA) – stressed the key role various sectors need to play to change the abysmal situation in a continent fighting tough challenges both at home and internationally.
The Senegal workshop called access to telecommunication services such as voice, data and the internet "a basic human right".
It demanded multi-stakeholder partnerships to identify local needs and local applications; set up local, national and regional internet exchange points (IXPs); and develop human capacity and local content; encourage local e-mail and web-hosting.
[One issue coming up frequently was that of SAT-3. SAT-3/WASC or Southern Africa/West Africa Submarine Cable is a submarine communications cable linking Portugal and Spain to South Africa, with connections to several West African countries along the route. Since it was unveiled earlier this decade, it has been seen as offering much significance for Africa, and promising a faster, more efficient trading channel between the continent and international markets. It came about due to the participation of 36 nations, and has a majority of its landings in African states.]
Voices coming out of Senegal also stressed the importance of empowering rural communities with access to ICTs and via universal service and incentives to the private sector; the need to develop the capacity of the media and journalists to report on ICT; rationalising the provision of bandwidth in public interest; enabling land-locked countries to be able to connect to the planned major cyberlink to Africa (SAT-3); and to harmonise different West and Central Africa projects like Infinity Fibre, Intellicon Fibre, WAFS and Intelkom.
This meet laid out specific tasks before governments (like recognising Universal Access, declaring telecom a public utility, to offer a level playing-field for operators, etc).
Below is part of the statement text emerging from the workshop:
We call upon governments to:
* Recognise Universal Access and to monitor this rigorously.
* Declare telecommunications to be a public utility like water, electricity and roads (contradiction with liberalisation).
* Establish independent national regulators and to empower the national regulators where they exist.
* Take responsibility to place ALL operators on the same competing level.
* Address the impact of national monopoly access to SAT-3 with the stakeholders involved.
* Ensure national internal fibre cables are laid from the coast to the north to enhance SAT-3 utilisation.
* We call upon governments to plan for the ending of the SAT3 agreement in April 2007.
We call upon national telecommunications regulators/universal service to:
* Create licence and service obligations mandating all all operators to address i) access gaps and, ii) service gaps
* Practice transparency and accountability
We call upon civil society to:
* Conduct an identification/audit of civil society organisations in ICT.
* Engage in capacity building, development and education.
* Engage missionary corps that understand the complexities of ICT.
* Be involved in ICT processes from start to finish.
* Effectively communicate civil society positions.
* Diffuse information on comparative costs of access.
We call upon ISPs to:
* Pool resources and engage in collective bargaining so as to negotiate cheaper prices on SAT-3.
* Develop a basic strategy to create national IXPs, then regional IXPs, then a continental IXP.
* Physically link to a national IXP (a precondition for the emergence of regional or continental IXPs is that there is a physical link between them).