African nations urged to harmonise telecoms laws

African countries working jointly to construct an undersea telecoms cable should harmonise laws governing the sector if they are to land the much-awaited communications link, a senior United Nations official said on Monday.

About 23 nations on the east of the continent have long harboured a much-delayed plan to build the submarine cable to slash internet and calling costs in a project known as the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy).

The cable would run along the eastern coast from South Africa to Sudan, with landing points along the way, but the plan has been caught up in wrangles over financing and access.

“There should be some areas that need improvement so that we minimise on internal fights,” Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN agency, told Reuters in an interview.

“For example, on laws governing foreign investments, they need to be compatible in all the countries. One country should not monopolise the others.”

EASSy is set for launch at the end of 2008, later than originally planned, due to bickering mainly between South Africa and Kenya.

Some analysts say that a number of the smaller countries in the group fear domination by South African economic power.

“I think politicking is over; what is remaining is ensuring regulatory environments in these countries are complementing ... each other.”

Kenya has been planning a separate cable to force prices even lower, and industry officials say there are plans for more undersea links.

“In order for the three key projects to succeed, the landing countries have to quickly harmonise their regulatory framework as a matter of urgency.
If their ICT regulatory framework is contradicting, then there’s a big problem,” Toure added.

More investment

Toure was speaking on the sidelines of the “Connect Africa” summit in Rwanda between African leaders and industry officials. The gathering is meant to look for resources to secure universal internet access on the continent over the next five years.

He said the continent’s mobile sector growth had been the highest in the world for the last five years.

“We want to apply such a successful example into other areas like internet and broadband access, which are lagging behind,” he added.

At the two day summit, African countries will showcase existing investment opportunities in ICT to potential business partners and donors.

“We cannot emphasise enough that investors create wealth, and that this summit provides us an opportunity to form partnerships with African and international business community for greater prosperity on our continent,” President Paul Kagame told the meeting.

Five other African presidents are gathered at the meeting in Kigali.

The GSM Association, a mobile industry group, said its members in sub-Saharan Africa planned to invest over $50-billion to expand their networks and improve services over the next five years.

The World Bank Group also announced it would double funds for ICT in Africa to $2-billion by 2012, from its current investment programme of $1-billion. - Reuters

Client Media Releases

Utility outages: looking at the big picture
UKZN scientists get L'Or'eal-UNESCO Women in Science grants
Springbok-mania hits MTN head office
Optimise your SMS campaigns this Black Friday