Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Please distribute widely


March 7 2006

Easing Access to EASSy

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Africa currently has to pay for some of
the most expensive bandwidth in the world. The region currently only has
one major international fibre cable (SAT3) that connects countries in
West and Southern Africa but East Africa has no fibre connection. Fibre
connections usually mean cheaper prices than satellite for volume
traffic but because of the monopoly structure of the SAT3 consortium,
its operators have kept prices high.

All this will change if the proposed East African Submarine Cable System
(EASSy) cable is built as it will connect countries on the eastern side
of the continent and if this new capacity is offered in a way that
maximises use and lowers price.

To help make this possible, APC is launching a new website
"Fibre-for-Africa" and on March 10 will hold a consultation with more
than 80 key stakeholders from all over Eastern and Southern Africa to
ensure that access to EASSy -which will serve eight coastal and eleven
land-locked countries- is 'easy', affordable and open.

Fibre-for-Africa provides background
information, analysis and news on EASSy and SAT3 and on general
bandwidth issues in Africa.

The consultation takes place on March 10, at the Indian Ocean Beach
Hotel, Mombasa, Kenya. This one-day event is convened by the Association
for Progressive Communications (APC), Balancing Act, Collaboration on
International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and Kenya
ICT Action Network (KICTANET).


The price of international bandwidth is still a significant barrier to
the region's development. It makes it more expensive to do business. For
example, it is harder for new call centres to compete with their global
competitors. In terms of its social development, there are many areas
where cheap international access would give East African citizens,
professionals, students and decision-makers access to knowledge,
expertise and involvement in regional and global discussions.

"The cost of international bandwidth almost certainly directly affects
how Africa works; whether through the high cost of international calls
-particularly to other African countries- or through the cost and speed
of the continent's internet connection," says APC executive director
Anriette Esterhuysen.


The EASSy consortium has been set up to build a fibre route that will
connect countries on the east coast of Africa. But its governance and
the terms under which access to the new capacity will be available have
not yet been set. This project is at a crossroads: it can either follow
the monopoly practices of its predecessor SAT3 or offer an open access
regime, that will increase competition and lower prices, and give
consideration to development needs.

The aim of the Mombasa consultation and the "Fibre-for-Africa" website
is to promote transparency -the investors in the cable have been less
than open about how they are going to run it- and the notion that
internet backbone needs to be regulated as a public good and from a
public interest perspective. "Interest in the event has been incredible,
" observes Anriette Esterhuysen. "We had invited 40 people, now there
are 80 confirmed - this is such a serious issue for the region."

"If SAT3 and the EASSy cable carry on being run as a club consortium,
the cost of international bandwidth will be kept high," says APC's
Communications and Information Policy Programme Manager Willie Currie.

Currie argues that this would "continue to deprive Africa of the
advantages of being cheaply connected to the international internet -- a
platform for multiple forms of collaboration - cultural, economic and


Russell Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act, says that the high costs of the
SAT3 cable set a bad precedent for the EASSy project to follow. "Rates
on SAT3 have been as high as US$25,000 per mbps per month but are now
around US$10-15,000. The actual cost to the operator is around US$2,000.
These are very large margins. High prices mean that there are a
significant number of countries where the full capacity of the cable has
not been used. Fibre cables last for 25 years and are therefore a
wasting asset from day one unless a large part of their capacity is
used. EASSy needs to produce prices and terms of access that will ensure

Brian Longwe of the African ISP Association (AfrISPA) and KICTANET says,
"Time has come for Africa's internet community to take their futures
--and livelihoods-- into their own hands. For too long Africa has been
dependent on overseas infrastructure and facilities to provide
inter-country -and sometimes intra-country- connectivity."


Convened by KICTANET, CIPESA, Balancing Act and APC, the consultation
will provide a briefing on EASSY followed by a debate of the key issues
and the questions that still need answering.

On the morning of March 10, Vincent Waiswa Bagiire of CIPESA will make
his opening remarks, followed by a panel discussion on key EASSy issues,
chaired by Florence Etta of KICTANET.

Panellists will zero in on how the availability of international
bandwidth from the EASSy cable will help change the work they do, or
help consumers. They will also raise issues of concern like pricing,
access to capacity, transparency, governance and equity.

Later in the morning, discussion will shift to the meaning of 'open
access' for EASSy, with particularly reference to the experience of the
SAT3 consortium in West and Southern Africa. Canadian development
organisation IDRC's Edith Adera will chair.

This session will offer an update on the EASSy project; the history of
Africa's other international fibre project, SAT3; the issues raised by
monopoly access, pricing strategy, transparency and the impact on users;
and ways these issues have been tackled in Africa and elsewhere in the
'developing' world.

APC's Willie Currie will look at what fibre infrastructure is being
built for Africa, while Balancing Act CEO Russell Southwood will talk
about how fibre monopolies affect access, pricing, and open versus
closed approaches. Zolisa Masiza of ICASA, the Independent
Communications Authority of South Africa, will discuss how regulators
can respond to the challenge of ensuring a level playing-field.

There will be short presentations on key issues by EASSy consortium
members and other interested parties. The meeting closes with a plenary
session, chaired by Dr. Francis Tusubira from Makerere University, to
discuss how issues of concern might be taken forward with Government,
regulators and the EASSy consortium itself.

The event is possible thanks to support provided by the APC, the UK
Department for International Development (DFID), Infodev, Canada's
International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Open Society
Institute (OSI).


Fibre-for-Africa provides background information, analysis and news on
EASSy and SAT3 and on general bandwidth issues in Africa. Visit the site
and use the public comments forum to say your say about affordable
bandwidth for Africa.

Or contact:
Alice Munyua Gitau, KICTANET
Mobile: +254 73 373 1074

Anriette Esterhuysen, APC
Mobile: +27 83 456-3224

Inquiries regarding conference attendance to marking
'EASSy Cable Consultation' clearly in the subject line.


The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international
network of civil society organisations dedicated to empowering and
supporting groups and individuals through the strategic use of
information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially
internet-related technologies.
Our policy work in Africa:



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