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CHAKULA Issue #16: Opening access to Africa: Interviews and analyses

1. EASSy: MAPPING THE PLAYERSEASSy stakeholder analysis by Abiodun Jagun – Interview with Edmund Katiti, the policy and regulatory advisor to NEPAD’s e-Africa Commission – Interview with Isidoro Pedro da Silva, CRASA’s executive secretary – CIPESA speaks to Uganda Telecom’s Donald Nyakairu – What’s in a name? The controversy over the EASSy name change

2. ‘A CREDIBLE THREAT’: Kenya in the driver’s seat… – Interview with Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication – Wairagala Wakabi asks if too much competition is a bad thing – It’s like waiting for a Matatu, says Russell Southwood – KICTANeT reports back on its online discussion and workshop – Rebecca Wanjiku spices up the debate

3. APC/UNDP WORKSHOP FOCUS – Interview with Ben Akoh, OSIWA’s ICT programmme officer – Interview with Polly Gaster, head of the Centre for Information and Communication at the University Eduardo Mondlane (CIUEM) in Maputo, Mozambique – Links to workshop reports and presentations

4. LATEST ANALYSES – Satellite failure shows Africa’s underbelly, argues Russell Southwood – CIPESA’s Vincent Bagiire questions whether open access will bear much fruit if universal access does not begin to create effective demand – Eric Osiakwan gets back to EASSy basics – Telkom SA under pressure from consumer activists

5. BACKGROUND READING – A selection of introductory content from www.fibreforafrica.net to get you going

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INTRODUCTION: THE FIBRE RUSH FOR AFRICA

If Kenya is anything to go by, the rush for cheap, effective broadband in Africa is moving fast: everyone from multinationals, to governments, to individual investors, both local and foreign, are involved, and they all seem to want a piece of the opportunity.

A centrepiece of all the action is the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a much-maligned and delayed attempt to link up several coastal countries in Eastern and Southern Africa to other global submarine cables systems in the North (See: http://fibreforafrica.net). The US$300 million plus project, which will result in about 9900km of fibre-optic cable being laid, is struggling, and a number of countries, like Kenya, have decided to go it alone.

The project has the misfortune of raising several key issues about the fibre rush for Africa. Such as: Who is going to own and run the cable? Who is going to pay for it? And who will benefit and who will lose out?

This issue of CHAKULA tries to offer some sense of direction. It maps out some of the players in the EASSy project, provides a taste of some of the recent controversies, asks questions about open access, and offers links to analyses, as well as background reading for beginners.

Two useful links for those who need to orientate themselves to the discussions in this newsletter: In ‘Saturating the marketplace’, Wairagala Wakabi from Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) outlines some recent fibre-optic plans for the continent, and asks: Is too much competition a bad thing? It is a good place to get an overview of what’s happening and some of the political and economic challenges involved.

Some of these challenges are detailed, and technical in nature. Recently the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANeT) held an online discussion to talk about the various regulatory and institutional challenges to fibre-optic cables in Kenya. John Walubengo produced an excellent explanatory document on the ownership options to get the discussions going. This issue of Chakula has been compiled by Abiodun Jagun, Ory Okolloh and Alan Finlay.

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1. EASSy: MAPPING THE PLAYERS

STAKEHOLDER ANALYSIS
This paper by the Association for Progressive Communication’s (APC) ICT policy researcher for the African region, Abiodun Jagun, adopts a stakeholder approach to analysing EASSy. It provides a graphical illustration of the hierarchy of power and interest among the different stakeholder groups engaged in the EASSy process. The paper highlights how different stakeholder groups are able – through forming coalitions – to influence the proposed ownership structure of the fibre-optic cable. The paper provides a graphical illustration of the current impasse within the EASSy project, which has been described as a disconnect between the commercial and political ends of the cable. The analysis of this impasse shows two competing groups; one the NEPAD Protocol coalition, and the other the Submarine Fibre Consortium. The analysis identifies that the powerful position initially held by the consortium has been diluted, and that the impasse has created high levels of uncertainty about the viability of the EASSy project.

‘WE’RE NOT TELLING ANYONE WHAT TO DO…’
Edmund Katiti is the policy and regulatory advisor to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD’s) e-Africa Commission. The e-Africa Commission is charged with the coordinated development of NEPAD’s ICT policies, programmes and projects. A top priority is to ensure that all African countries will be connected to one another by broadband fibre-optic cable systems that will, in turn, link them to global telecommunications networks through existing or planned submarine cable systems. CHAKULA asked Katiti some easy, and more difficult questions…

[Interview took place in January 2007]

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“The NEPAD process of conducting business does not permit any country to dominate the process or behave undemocratically.”
— Edmund Katiti, policy and regulatory advisor to NEPAD’s e-Africa Commission

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CHAKULA: What exactly is NEPAD’s role in the EASSy project?

EDMUND KATITI [EK]: On the 9th March, 2003, the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee adopted the development of a broadband ICT network linking all countries in Africa to one another and, in turn, to the rest of the world as a top priority NEPAD project. As a result, the NEPAD e-Africa Commission has been working towards the development of two regional networks, and a continent-wide satellite network. The first network is what we call the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network for Eastern and Southern Africa. This comprises a submarine (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable) segment, and a terrestrial segment. This network was agreed at a workshop of stakeholders (including telecom operators) held in Johannesburg in July 2004. The second regional network is the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network for Central, West and North Africa. Then there’s the NEPAD e-Schools satellite network. As you can see from this, the submarine project is just part of a bigger ICT infrastructure programme for the African continent, and it’s the NEPAD e-Africa Commission’s mandate to coordinate the structured developed of the ICT sector on the continent.

CHAKULA: You’ve also being working on regulatory barriers?

EK: Yes. With a view to resolving policy and regulatory issues that may impede or prevent the realization of the rationalised network, the e-Africa Commission has worked with government ICT experts, ICT policy advisors, regulators, civil society, legal experts, executives of telecom companies, and development funding institutes to develop a policy and regulatory framework within which the network could be developed. The experts and policy advisors agreed that the integrated ICT broadband backbone should be based on several principles. These are: non-discriminatory open access; equitable joint ownership of the backbone infrastructure across the region; the separation of ownership of the infrastructure from its use; the use of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) to build, own and operate the broadband ICT network; and that the infrastructure should be viewed as a ‘public good’ and operated on a cost-recovery basis.

CHAKULA: Do these principles apply to EASSy?

EK: The experts and policy advisors agreed that these principles would cover the submarine cable as well as the terrestrial network. In addition, they recommended that a Protocol should be signed between the countries of the region in order to underpin their collaboration in developing this network. A Protocol that encapsulates these principles in a policy and regulatory framework, as well as the details of the SPVs that will own, operate and maintain the NEPAD network, was developed and accepted by a number of governments in Eastern and Southern Africa. This Protocol has been signed under the auspices of the African Union, by 12 countries: Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe [As of January 2007]. The countries that have not yet signed the Protocol may accede to it in the future. The NEPAD e-Africa Commission is the implementing agency of the Protocol, and is also the Secretariat of the Inter-Governmental Assembly (IGA).

CHAKULA: Of the countries that haven’t signed, the sticking point seems to be differences over the IGA. I understand the IGA to be a government-run structure for the ownership and management of the cable’s inter-connection points between countries. How flexible is this issue, if countries continue to refuse to sign the protocol because of it? Could the requirements for an IGA be dropped from the protocol or changed?

EK: The IGA is not an issue with most of the countries that are yet to sign the Protocol. Most countries were unable to sign because of the internal procedures for approving the signing of a regional treaty. In some of the countries the Protocol has to be approved by Parliament before the Minister responsible for the sector can sign the Protocol, and this takes longer than the three months the countries had from the date the Protocol was finalized to the deadline for signing. The countries that did not sign the Protocol by November 30, 2006, will be able to accede to the Protocol when it comes into effect sometime in the first half of 2007, when it has been ratified by seven signatory countries. The IGA is not “a government-run structure for the ownership and management of the cable’s interconnection points between countries.” The IGA will ensure that the policy and regulatory aspects of the Protocol are upheld by the SPVs. The SPVs will have a Board of Directors and a Management Team and these are the structures that will be responsible “for the ownership and management” of the SPVs. There is therefore no need for the IGA to be dropped from the Protocol.

CHAKULA: Some role-players say that NEPAD is asserting ownership of the project. Is this true?

EK: As you can see from the above, NEPAD was created before the submarine project was started, and the NEPAD e-Africa Commission has been involved in the project right from the beginning.

CHAKULA: Kenya recently said South Africa was behaving undemocratically. One can’t help the feeling that some tensions around NEPAD more generally (and South Africa’s role on the continent) are being reflected in this specific issue. Do you feel this may be true?

EK: The inability of some countries to sign the Protocol within the three months window was due to legislative procedures within those countries and not resistance to the Protocol. Only one country has expressed reservations about a few aspects of the Protocol. The NEPAD process of conducting business does not permit any country to dominate the process or behave undemocratically.

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‘WE ARE NOT GIVING UP ON NEPAD’
Kenya’s sudden exit from the EASSy project has set tongues wagging – and the controversy has not been helped by South Africa apparently unilaterally changing the project’s name to The Nepad Broadband Infrastructure Network (NBIN). CIPESA recently spoke to Uganda Telecom’s Donald Nyakairu. Katiti is also canvassed by CIPESA for his views.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The recent announcement by South Africa’s communications minister that the EASSy had been renamed the NEPAD Broadband Infrastructure Network (NBIN) was as astounding as her assertion, during the same function, that “the original model developed for the cable is not what international financial institutions such as the World Bank would have liked”, writes Anthony Mugeere.

See also:

NOTHING’S FIXED, SAYS NEPAD
NEPAD’s e-Africa Commission issued a statement saying that the project’s shareholders can chose any name they want at an up-coming meeting in April/May.

‘OPEN ACCESS IS NO LONGER JUST A CONCEPT
The Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) is a forum of communications regulators and other ICT services stakeholders in Southern Africa. CRASA’s objectives include introducing effective competition through liberalization, and promoting an effective and efficient regulatory environment. CHAKULA spoke to its executive secretary, Isidoro Pedro da Silva.

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2. ‘A CREDIBLE THREAT’: Kenya in the driver’s seat…

Kenya has become a vocal player in the drive for faster and cheaper connectivity in Africa, and the country is fast emerging as a spirited leader on the issue. It recently announced that it is pursuing no fewer than three major access initiatives in the country: The East African Marine System (TEAMS), a Kenya Data Network (KDN)/Flag Telecom initiative, and EASSy. The country’s spiritedness has caused some controversy, with a representative from the World Bank adding fuel to the fire by stating that the Kenyan plans are a “credible threat” to the EASSy project. Indeed: it withdrew from EASSy a few months later. But, backed up by an open and inclusive policy development process, that involves a range of stakeholders and sectors through the country’s multi-stakeholder network KICTANeT, it looks like the country’s ‘take no prisoners’ approach may yield results. Bitange Ndemo is Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication – which means, effectively, that he’s the person who gets things done. CHAKULA asked him about TEAMS.

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“Bottom line we have real opportunity to change our country irreversibly.”
— Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication

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CHAKULA: The Kenyan government is stepping up efforts to address the high cost of internet access in the country. Why has infrastructure become a priority for the government and your ministry, and what impact do you see these efforts having on the average Kenyan citizen?

BITANGE NDEMO [BN]: Our national ICT Policy objectives include lowering cost of access to emerging technologies, including internet. Besides, unemployment in this country has reached chronic levels. To curb the problem the Government realized that we had an opportunity to utilize the highly educated youth in the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) industry. We had the first conference in February this year [2006] and by then there was only one 200-seat call centre. We then started to market our country as a BPO destination. It became apparent that in spite of the human resource capacity that we have, bandwidth, with acceptable levels of latency in the BPO sector, was the bottleneck. Nevertheless, we now have 4,000 Kenyans working in this new sector. The cost of accessing internet continues to hurt the growth of ICT in the country. Thus the frustration with the delays in the implementation of EASSy.

CHAKULA: The government recently announced the launch of TEAMS. Can you tell us a bit more about the project and how it will be financed?

BN: Kenya is a regional gateway and as such cannot wait to be guided on what to do in the region. Although TEAMS is being driven by the Government of Kenya, the aim of the project is to fast track connectivity to the East African region. The ultimate ownership of TEAMS would not be entirely Government, but by willing investors and Governments in the region. This project is like a road whose objectives are to open up the region and on this road you can have many buses competing. Therefore on TEAMS shall be many operators and other investors from the region. We consider TEAMS as a means to an end that would enable us compete with India and other parts of the world.

CHAKULA: Will non-governmental actors have a role in the project and how will you ensure that access to the fibre will be truly open?

BN: The Government will have a minimum role; probably not beyond regulation. The initial seed money will come from the Government and as more operators/users join, the Government would maintain minimum shareholding but leave the running of a special purpose vehicle to the private sector that will be eventually be listed on the stock exchange through an IPO. The Government, as well as other public institutions (e.g. universities), would buy their capacity requirement like all other users. Our model is more like the Swedish one that is probably the Gold Standard of open access with minimal impact on the environment. Whether you are Telkom Kenya Limited (TKL) or a newly registered operator, you will buy your capacity requirement at the same price as TKL

CHAKULA: How do you see EASSy co-existing with efforts like TEAMS? BN: Africa’s problems emanate from monopolies (read National Telecoms; and note the problems being experienced with SAT-3). We must avoid these problems by encouraging a competitive environment in all infrastructure projects. Therefore EASSy or TEAMS have a role in maintaining low prices that would make the continent competitive. Kenya also has another fibre project being undertaken by the private sector, and we as a government welcome all these developments as they truly become a means to economic and social development. Fujairah, for example, has four cables that are benefiting the region enormously… [Interview by Ory Okolloh]

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SATURATING THE MARKETPLACE
Marine cables could flood the east coast of Africa, but how viable will the competing cables be? asks Wairagala Wakabi.

THE FINAL FRONTIER
The East African coast remains the only seabed in Africa yet to be covered by international submarine fibre-optic cable. An online discussion and face-to-face workshop hosted by KICTANeT charted the best way forward.

IT’S LIKE WAITING FOR A MATATU…
It’s like waiting for a matatu. You wait for ages and none come along. But just when you’re about to give up hope, three come along at the same time, all trying to come to a screaming halt in front of you. Balancing Act’s Russell Southwood discusses Kenya’s options. [Source: Balancing Act, www.balancingact-africa.com]

SPICING UP THE DEBATE
When Kai Wulff, CEO of KDN and Bitange Ndemo are in one room discussing issues of internet connectivity, you can be assured of fireworks. But the common denominator is that they are concerned about reducing internet connectivity charges, writes Rebecca Wanjiku.

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3. APC/UNDP WORKSHOP FOCUS

OPENING UP ACCESS FOR ALL
Open access, what it means, and how best to get communities connected came under the spotlight at a three-day workshop held in Johannesburg late last year. The workshop was billed a “dialogue and exchange on promising options and critical issues” and was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and APC. It aimed to share project success stories and innovations, and explore ways of supporting policy and capacity development initiatives that promote open access on the continent. Participants include community ICT practitioners, researchers, policy advocates, regulators, academics and donors from across Africa.

WORKSHOP REPORT AND PRESENTATIONS
For a run down of the workshop proceedings and links to presentations visit.

‘WE CAN’T STOP AND WAIT FOR MEGA-PROJECTS LIKE EASSy’
Polly Gaster is the head of the Centre for Information and Communication at the University Eduardo Mondlane (CIUEM) in Maputo, Mozambique. She has been involved in telecentre development in Mozambique for many years, and attended the Johannesburg workshop. CHAKULA asked her what she expected from the EASSy project.

GETTING POLITICAL
Ben Akoh is the ICT programmme officer at Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). OSIWA supports the creation of open societies in West Africa: societies marked by a functioning democracy, good governance, the rule of law, basic freedoms, and widespread civic participation. OSIWA is based in Dakar, Senegal. CHAKULA caught up with Akoh at the Johannesburg workshop.

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“It’s about people talking to people for next to nothing, and it’s about encouraging my African brothers and sisters living outside the continent to return home and contribute in the building of our crumbled societies because there is cheap, affordable means of communication.”
—- Ben Akoh, ICT programme officer, OSIWA

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CHAKULA: There were a number of definitions of open access put forward at the workshop. Yours struck me as having a distinctly political aspect to it, because it included the idea of media freedoms. What is open access to you?

BEN AKOH [BA]: The concept of open access has been a tug-of-war within development circles. I have seen (or heard) definitions from ‘open source’ to ‘open content’ and then ‘open access’. Pre-pending the word ‘open’ to any other word seems to automatically qualify that word to be included in what I will call the general ‘open concept’ framework or parlance. It becomes difficult to then define, and in turn accept as final, any one or the other definition of open access. I will also not attempt to define it, though at the workshop I managed to ‘say’ what it meant to me. And these are purely my thoughts on open access until it is subjected to scientific and social discuss, theorized and then proven – in scientific parlance. Russell Southwood and Eric Osiakwan [see below], in their open access infoDev paper say (carefully choosing my words) that open access is the separation of services from infrastructure and that the base infrastructure (which I will call the medium – and not to be confused with media) is the responsibility of those that have the means and power to build this. So in telecommunications it is the copper cable, fibre; in broadcasting it is the airwaves (frequency allocation, spectrum management and the associated speak – ‘open spectrum’) and the attendant last mile exchanges; in electricity it is the poles, transformers, substations; in mobile technology, the base stations, etc. And government usually has the means to build this type of capital-intensive infrastructure and should stick to it; although in recent years the private sector has entered into this space. The second component of the open access framework is the services which run on these mediums. The definition of open access has therefore been firstly the separation of this spectrum and secondly the advocacy for unrestricted access to any of the components of the spectrum (re: infrastructure – or mediums – and the services that run on these mediums). I have added the broadcast sector to this definition because of the sooner rather than later shift towards the convergence of technologies. It will become ‘difficult’ to separate what runs on the medium – difficult but not impossible to distinguish the type of traffic. And if convergence will ‘force’ all technologies towards a converged media then the broadcast sector should be included in the ‘open’ speak. Broadcast can be further subdivided into various little components – the content, the broadcaster, the human resource within the broadcast sector (re: journalists and his editor/publisher), the spectrum, base stations, policies that surround broadcast, public/private broadcasters, etc. This is a sector that is often held captive and tightly controlled by the state and/or ruling party in most countries of Africa, if not the world. Hence its political undertone. Advocating for open access in this sector (not known as that) has been a long-time struggle. Indeed media advocates have fought for some form of open access right back in the day with ‘freedom of information’ and ‘freedom of expression’ struggles. We should as well include the broadcast struggle in this fight.

CHAKULA: How do you understand open access in the context of West Africa: Do you think West Africa is ahead of East Africa in the access stakes, so to speak?

BA: One thing for sure is that SAT-3 had greatly improved connectivity in West Africa in spite of its high cost of connectivity induced by the closed consortium model of its ownership. This sets West Africa far ahead – in communication terms – of East Africa. Although the individual cost of connectivity per country still impacts heavily on the consumer, it may have improved the social life and living standards of West Africans in terms of their ability and the ease of communication and access to information. Also, SAT-3 has spurred or incentivized the growth of other regional inland, terrestrial fibre or submarine cables. While it is important to build terrestrial networks, it is unclear, especially amongst investors in East Africa, how much value such ‘internal infrastructure’ would have without a regional submarine cable that carries the generated internal content to other parts of the world. I believe this is the underlying, hidden issue that has negatively impacted the rapid development and deployment of regional terrestrial and regional submarine infrastructure in that part of the continent. While no-one would say it this directly, it is the reason why the interest in EASSy and its open access debate has led to no cable being laid up until the present moment. I however postulate that regions in Africa should not be compared against themselves. It’s not a question of how far the West exceeds the East in regional infrastructure development terms. But rather, it is how Africa as a whole sees itself in the connectivity debate – perhaps against the rest of the world. It is about how much capital flight happens annually and how that could be curbed. It’s about how Africans should encourage internal communication, which will, of course, lead to the development of our continent as a whole and not a certain part of it while the other suffers. (Indeed while technology growth is evident in West Africa, there are other aspects of development in which West Africa lags far behind its East African counterparts). It’s about continental economics versus the poverty picture that the continent portrays to the rest of the world. It’s about people talking to people for next to nothing, and it’s about encouraging my African brothers and sisters living outside the continent to return home and contribute in the building of our crumbled societies because there is cheap, affordable means of communication. Which, in my opinion, contributes greatly to the underlying reasons why the diaspora refuses to return and invest in the continent. Let’s look at the fibre issue as a continental issue, from a holistic point of view rather than the sectored, fractured spectacles we have used up until now – of EASSy for East Africa and SAT-3 for West Africa. Then perhaps ‘open access’ would lose its meaning and become just ‘affordable access.’ Then we would have achieved our objective.

CHAKULA: What are the key challenges in West Africa, as far as open access is concerned?

BA: Firstly, the availability of SAT-3 gives us an illusion that all our communication needs have been met and hence we do not need to further research or invest into alternative or more available means of connectivity. Although there has been private sector activity in this area (for example, the GlobalCom fibre link to London, the Festoon cable, etc.) it may be insufficient to meet the future needs of communication – especially, as I have already mentioned, that all services, including broadcast signals, would run on some of these channels. This is one amongst many reasons why this medium may not be sufficient in the near future. Secondly, the open access debate has not been an issue on the table of most West African connectivity discussions, because of – you got it right – SAT-3. “It ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Hence the struggle by civil society has been to lower the cost and improve connectivity as opposed to directly challenging the rather ‘political’ status quo and structure of the closed consortium; political in the sense that incumbents are tied to governments and, believe it or not, governments have closely guarded interests in the revenue generated by their cash cows – the telcoms. While we also advocate for the opening up of the ‘governing’ structure held tightly by the agreements countries (and their telcos) may have signed binding them to secrecy, we also advocate for the ease of accessing this infrastructure from whatever landing station one chooses. Could this be open access in another form? Or perhaps from a West African perspective?

CHAKULA: During the workshop you suggested that technology can have a detrimental affect, and that in some instances customs and cultural habits may be lost. In this way, a different kind of ‘access’ is under threat – access to culture as it is being practiced. Could you elaborate on this?

BA: I will put the discuss in context here, as the workshop focused on access at the rural community level. I believe it is very important that our rural folks should be reachable and should be within either fixed or mobile coverage areas, fall within the electricity grid, have running water, and information (either via broadcast channels – TV, radio – or the internet), etc. Our specific debate focused on the use and proliferation of ‘free networks’ in the rural community. This is clearly useful as I would be able to reach my grandmother from across the world and she me if that network is connected to the larger national backbone. But should my grand mum use that tool to speak to her neighbor in the next commune of huts – 10 meters away, just like we are used to doing in the urban areas? (Research shows that more ‘neighborhood’ calls amount for a larger percentage of the entire household phone bill). We happen to always drop into a friend’s place as we find ourselves ‘in the neighborhood’ without making any prior calls or appointments. This social dynamic, though unpleasant in some ways, is often appreciated. I may be myopic in my thinking here and perhaps be looking at this using the eye of my village, the rural community that shaped my being. ‘In the neighborhood’ is not the unlikely, but rather the norm, in the rural context. Does the introduction of technology and rural communication affect this very fabric of rural culture? I believe so. When my grandmother would rather speak to her neighbor on the phone than visit her seems to me to negatively affect communication within the rural community – communication being the basis by which African communities exist. Ours is an oral culture.

CHAKULA: As a donor, what sorts of initiatives do you think need to be supported in the context of open access in West Africa?

BA: Clearly, the price of access needs to drop. Not just become affordable, but way below the disposable income of the rural person. Secondly, barter trade still subsists in must parts of African communities. I would like to see, putting it plainly, the ability to exchange a basket of tomatoes for x hours of airtime for the rural community farmer. I would also like to see the government, private sector, etc. putting rural access on the forefront of connectivity discuss and not just talking about it, but ensuring that something is done – enough of the talk now. And finally, I would like to see empowered and organised consumers and their interests cutting across rural and urban communities in the open access debate; and subsequent implementation. While I believe that regulation may be ‘evil’ in some form, a structured regulatory framework for both rural and urban infrastructure should exist as self-regulation may be totally impossible in connectivity issues. There are too many interests at stake.

Background reading: Anders Comstedt, Eric Osiakwan and Russell Southwood (Spintrack AB): Open Access Model, Options for Improving Backbone Access in Developing Countries (with a Focus on Sub-Saharan Africa), 2005.

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4. LATEST ANALYSES

SATELLITE FAILURE SHOWS AFRICA’S UNDERBELLY
The cost of satellite bandwidth has rocketed as much as 50% following the failed launch of a satellite last January. The story shows just how vulnerable Africa is. Russell Southwood explores the issue. [Source: Balancing Act, www.balancingact-africa.com]

ENABLING OPEN ACCESS THROUGH UNIVERSAL ACCESS
In this paper, CIPESA’s Vincent Bagiire questions whether open access will bear much fruit if universal access does not begin to create effective demand.

OPENING UP EASSy
In the wake of what he calls the “EASSy fallout”, Eric Osiakwan goes back to the basics of open access to get the project’s engines started again.

BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON TELKOM SA
The Telecoms Action Group (TAG) has been making waves in South Africa. That’s after it took out a full-page advert in two South African newspapers slamming Telkom SA for its higher-than-fair connectivity costs. CHAKULA spoke to Alastair Otter, founding editor of Tectonic, who is part of the TAG initiative.

See also:

‘CONSUMERS SHOULDN’T SUBSIDISE TELKOM’ argues APC Director Anriette Esterhuysen.

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5. BACKGROUND READING

WHY AFFORDABLE INTERNATIONAL BANDWIDTH MATTERS Currently Africa has amongst the highest international bandwidth costs anywhere in the world. Although it varies, the international element of the cost to the consumer is significant proportion of the overall cost he or she pays. The same is true for institutional users like governments or for companies in the private sector.

FINANCING INFRASTRUCTURE
Before markets were liberalised, telephone companies were in the main government-owned institutions. When they wanted to build undersea cables, governments financed this activity and the project was carried out by the government-owned telephone company. In the age of liberalisation, things get a bit more tricky.

HOW FAR DOES DEMAND FOR LOW-COST CALLS GO?
Up until relatively recently, making international calls from Africa has been expensive. People were less inclined or unable to afford to make an international call and the majority of international calling was either corporate or government. A number of factors have fundamentally changed this position.

SATELLITE vs FIBRE: DIFFERENT COSTS FOR DIFFERENT THINGS
Satellite is extremely effective in reaching places where the volume of traffic would not justify a fibre connection. However satellite connectivity is often costly. On the other hand, the comparatively low price of fibre connectivity for the consumer may not be sustainable over the long-term in some instances.

FLATTENING THE WORLD WITH FIBRE
This paper aims to define fibre optic technology, how fibre-optic networks function, and explains how different this technology is from other communication infrastructures. The paper further outlines the prospects for fibre-optic technology in Africa, looks at some fibre-optic networks on the continent, as well as at how fibre-optic applications are being used to enhance technological and economic development.

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