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Highway Africa Post 1: The EASSY Project

The presentations that I have attended so far haven’t really been bloggable…here’s my first attempt to cover a workshop. The session is covering the status of the EASSY project. I expect the South Africa / Kenya tensions over the cable to come up in the discussion.

Dr Henry Chasia, the head of NEPAD’s E-Africa Commission was the main speaker. The highlights of his presentation focused on the background of the project:

– The cable is being developed in the context of NEPAD. 23 countries are involved.
– There are 3 components to the project: the development of the cable and the development of a broadband network first in East Africa then in West Africa.
– Network should be viewed as a public good and operate on a cost-recovery basis.
– Principles of the EASSY protocol:
1. Should be based on African ownership and leadership.
2. Should be based on African expertise.
3. Should reflect the partnership between African people.
4. Should reflect principles of regional cooperation.

– Benefits:
1. High capacity network to move traffic across the region.
2. Significant reduction in communication costs.

– Challenge: Achieving consensus on the policy framework.

Ben Akoh and Eric Osiakwan spoke on the challenges of regulation from the perspective of SAT3 users.
– Problem with the cable is that it was built by people interested in maintaining a monopoly structure. Primary beneficiary has been telcos.
– High costs of communciation: Ghana charges $3000 per MG/per second (on SaT3). Cameroon $15,000 per MG (on SaT3); South Africa $11,000 (on SAT 3).
– There’s very little media coverage on SaT3/EASSY and the infrastructure challenges around communication in Africa.
Eassy charges expected to be btwn $1000-$1500.
– Without infrastructure improvement – any talk about E-governement, e-service, e-commerce, outsourcing etc. can’t go far.
– Routing local web traffic internationally is consting the continent about $400 million a year. Costs for routing mobile calls between african countries is even higher. For more stats on connectivity within Africa, click here.
– Reducing Sat3 costs: Mauritus Case Study – declare that the cable is an “essential facility.” (Telkom SA is fighting that).
– How should EASSY be different: Separate ownership issues vs. access issues. Anyone should be able to invest in EASSY not just govt.
– KDN’s plans to build a competing cable is great – more competition, better prices.
– For more background on the status of fibre projects in Africa, click here.

From the Q&A Session:

– Are Kenya’s concerns about EASSY legitimate?
Dr. Chassia: Kenya has been part of the process, through out they should have raised their issues during the process e.g. with regards to the protocol they should have submitted their comments on the draft (4 countries did that) so far they’ve sent in nothing.

– A comment – enough is not being done to translate the implication of EASSY to the average person.

My take: So far, I’m pessimitic about the odds of a succesful outcome via the NEPAD process. Too many conflicting interests (and room for lots of conferences to resolve them). I hope I’m wrong. In the meantime, I think Kenya should go it alone and resell to interested parties at a competitive price.

6 comments to Highway Africa Post 1: The EASSY Project

  • Thank you for this.

    I have been closely monitoring the ongoings on the EASSY project and I dare say that Kenya has valid concerns. The level of investment involved is well worth it. Kenyan investors, notably KDN, are keen to jump on board with the Government and lay the cable. However, despite the cabinet having given an approval, I spoke to someone Senior at the Ministry of Finance yesterday and I learnt that the Minister is reluctant to fund it unless it is accompanied by a proper e-government framwework so that proper benefits can be felt.

  • I will read on that project. How is it going down there?

  • Hi Ory!
    It’s great to learn that you are in attendance at the Highway Africa Project conference this year. My comment below was posted first to Ethan’s blog, but you may be in a better position to answer some of my questions when you can find the time.

    Ciao and good luck with all your endeavors


    It sounds as if that conference down in South Africa will be very interesting Ethan, and its great to hear that high-profile African bloggers, media industry and government figures from the continent are also involved. But I’m a little confused about something.

    The SAT-3 high bandwidth telecommunications cable and the ESSAY project to bring better communications to the continent (East-South-West) should have been completed years ago, oder? SAT-3 was described in a well-known article written by Hiawatha Bray and published on page 1 of the Boston Globe newspaper on July 22, 2001. The 7 page (printed) article is titled “The Wiring Of A Continent”. Is SAT-3 up and running for West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and 5 other countries)?

    The Globe article also described the Africa One project by Massachusetts telecoms consultant Patricia Bagnell that was to construct a high-bandwidth fibre optic telecom ring around the entire continent. What happened, she couldn’t raise the estimated $1.8 billion dollars needed to carry out the plan? And whatever happened to South Africa’s Eskom Enterprises (SA utility giant) initiative to build a vast network of electric power transmission stations & high-bandwidth communications lines from Cape Town to Cairo?

  • Thanks for the email answer to my question re: ESSAY and SAT-3 communications networks. Obviously, putting a single company or entity in charge of the ESSAY project would be a big mistake, as is already apparent with SAT-3 (SA Telekom).

    I see a lot of problems in getting 28 countries to work together and agree on policies, costs, revenues etc. for the ESSAY project. All you have to do is review how these countries have handled their own respective telecommunication monopolies, and you can see the recipe for a nightmare.

    One way to do it is to get some big non-profit organization or coalition of businesses to finance and manage the ESSAY project for the 1st 5-8 years, turning over control to an independent governing body on the African continent whose sole responsibility would be to provide low-cost and reliable access to the millions of users. However, the various governments and private telecom companies would scream bloody murder as they would be missing out on revenues and taxes and stuff. That’s probably one reason Africa One died.

  • I found another really interesting article about the ESSAY Project over at Cisco Systems News. Looks as if the ESSAY consortium has already shot itself in the foot re: funding from the World Bank and others. Here is the URL to the May 31, 2006 News@Cisco feature article:

    P.S. Cisco has a great 5MB PDF map download of the proposed ESSAY network. O.K., I’m gone. Ciao.

  • […] support it via their local stations. Kenyan Pundit is here and blogging – she’s got an excellent piece on yesterday’s panel on the SAT-3 and EASSy cables, which I was sorry to miss, partic […]