Monday, May 6, 2013

Tanzania: An opportunity for regional cross border fibre

By Esther Nakkazi

Tanzania could be one answer to eastern Africa's cross border broadband connectivity problems, with fibre links laid up to strategic border points of the nine countries neighboring it.

But all nine governments have not responded to interconnect at the borders with Tanzania fibre, a problem that is still keeping Internet prices high and may slow development for the region.

"If eastern Africa wants to take Internet traffic down south through Tanzania they can do so," said Dr. Raynold Mfungahema, director of consumer and industry affairs- Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

Tanzania fibre links are already at borders points of Sirali, Namanga and Horohoro to serve Kenya, Mutukula to Uganda, Rusumo to Rwanda as well as Manyovu and Kabanga to Burundi.

It is also connected to Malawi through Kasumulo and Tunduma to Zambia plus it has three submarine cables-EASSy, SEACOM and EACC to Seychelles.

"We have pulled fibre to all these border points but all the governments have not connected to our links, which is a challenge. It is only the private sector doing cross border interconnectivity and they are few," said Mfungahema at the Broadband and Satellite communication held in Kampala recently.

The few private sector companies that have connected across border lines particularly, MTN interconnecting Rwanda to Burundi and Uganda to Kenya and Rwanda are monopolies keeping the costs real high.

In Uganda, the private sector, MTN and Uganda Telecom have between them fibre laid from border to border, to Malaba linking up with Telkom Kenya to Nairobi and Mombasa; and to Katuna border to link to Rwanda.

The private sector, interconnects the region under a joint regional effort, the East African Backhaul System (EABS) which is meant to link all the five East African Community Countries and involves about 30 operators in Eastern and Southern Africa.

However, connecting across borders also has its challenges; bureaucracy for rights of way, immigration, different regulation regimes and security concerns as data is moving between governments.

"We need more operators to build fibre across borders to stop monopolies that exist in interconnection between borders," said Michuki Mwangi of Internet Society. The cost of cross border connections for the east African region remains exorbitant; for instance, it is cheaper to buy broadband from London to Nairobi than from to Nairobi to Kampala.

Most government officials and regulators attending the conference on Broadband and satellite communication organized by the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), International Telecommunications Organisations (ITSO) and the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) said they hope to interconnect across borders through their national data transmission projects.

" We shall connect to Tanzania through Mutukula in phase III of the National data transmission project in the next financial year," said Mr. James Saaka, the director National Internet Transmission (NITA-U).

The Uganda government has completed phase I and II of its national data transmission project and according to Ssaka they have handed over infrastructure of 2,000 kms to a private company, now managing it.

Kenya has ten times as much as Uganda's laid broadband with 20,000 kms owned by both the government and the private sector. Meanwhile, Tanzania has 10,000 kms of fibre laid under the government national data project.

In order to have cheap Internet, the region could unite and also create public-private partnerships to interconnect at the borders. "It is important that we collect our traffic as a region and buy traffic cheaply, plus keep the local traffic local," advised Dr. Mfungahema.

The NEPAD e-Africa programme and African Union have a joint project to identify cross border broadband linkages. Dr. Edmund Katiti of NEPAD e-Africa programme assured all broadband providers who have interest in connecting across borders that they can get soft loans from NEPAD or the African Union.

"There should be complementation as soon as possible between government and the private sector,” Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, the Minister of ICT in Uganda. "If we handle things together and move as a region, we shall move faster."







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