Broadband blockage

CONFIRMATION of financial backing for Seacom’s 15000km undersea cable linking Africa to India and Europe comes in the nick of time, not only to ensure SA has enough bandwidth to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, but to prevent the country from falling too far behind the developed world technologically.

With local investment company Venfin now on board with a 25% stake worth $75m, black-owned groups Shanduka and Investment Partners securing 12,5% each, and Neotel, SA’s second network operator, providing the vital telecoms

Seacom will connect Mtunzini on SA’s east coast to Mumbai in India and Marseilles in France via Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya and Tanzania by June 2009, and terrestrial links will extend bandwidth to many other African countries inland.

It has 10 times the capacity of the sole existing cable, Sat-3, which lands on the continent’s west coast, and this increased availability should contribute to a sorely needed drop in bandwidth costs.

The Seacom shareholding — 50% South African, 25% Kenyan in the form of the Aga Khan Fund, a development agency, and 25% held by Herakles Telecom of the US — would appear to satisfy the controversial condition imposed by Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, that any cable landing in SA be controlled by African investors.

Her concern was understandable given the stranglehold the foreign-owned Sat-3 has had over telecommunications costs on the continent, but that had more to do with Sat-3’s monopoly status than its ownership structure.

Now that there is a competitive environment to ensure broadband prices come down — two other undersea cables are proposed for Africa, the World Bank-sponsored Eassy cable and another mooted by Nepad — the state could contribute most by just getting out of the way.

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Broadband blockage