SEACOM clear to land?

Deputy Director General for ICT Infrastructure Development at the Department of Communications (DoC), Rosey Sekese, said that cables wanting to land in South Africa need to be majority African owned.

Speaking at the ITWeb Broadband & Wireless conference in Midrand, Sekese made it clear that majority local ownership is not what is needed, but rather majority African ownership with a strong focus on developing the continent as a whole.

When asked directly whether SEACOM will be allowed to land in South Africa, Sekese said that this issue is currently under discussion and as long as the undersea cable system abides by the Nepad Protocols governing these developments it will be given the green light.

Neotel confident

Last week Neotel’s Head of Strategy, Angus Hay, said that he is confident that SEACOM will be allowed to land in South Africa as it meets all the legal requirements.

Hay further said that SEACOM falls in line with the spirit of development put forward by the DoC and Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, and since it is an African driven project he believes that landing rights will not be an issue.

There are also rumors that Neotel has already started building physical infrastructure to connect the SEACOM landing point to their fiber backbone, which is a healthy sign that the company is not overly concerned about SEACOM landing in South Africa.

According to Neotel, statements regarding this issue will ‘come out soon’.

EASSy not so easy

While the feeling towards SEACOM’s landing seems to be positive, the DoC seems less optimistic about EASSy.

When asked whether EASSy, which is 90% African owned and will function on open access principles, will be allowed to land in South Africa the answer was cryptic at best.

Sekese said that while the shareholding is majority African, the system will have to abide by the Nepad protocols governing these developments to be allowed to land in South Africa.

Some commentators feel that the DoC and Nepad are particularly ‘sensitive’ regarding the EASSy project as they were unable to hijack the system and make it part of the Nepad ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network.

Mohsen Khalil, Director for the Global ICT Department of the World Bank Group previously described Matsepe-Casaburri’s recent statements regarding EASSy’s landing rights in South Africa as regrettable, especially since the cable is viewed as an African initiative of which South Africa is a big part.

Being a truly African initiative, funded by African stakeholders and functioning on open access principles it is very difficult to see how Government will be able to justify blocking EASSy from landing in South Africa. Any policy directives achieving this may have devastating effects for South Africa’s future international bandwidth needs.

Competition needed

During a panel discussion at the ITWeb Broadband & Wireless conference involving industry commentators Dobek Pater, Brian Nielson, Arthur Goldstuck and Rudolph Muller, there was a strong sense that more cable systems were desperately needed to solve South Africa’s bandwidth woes.

While the concept of an international bandwidth glut was debated there was a feeling from some commentators that as long as these cable systems are privately funded they should be allowed to progress despite the financial risks.

A variety of cables will allow for a competitive international fiber market which will inevitably drive down prices and in return improve local broadband offerings.

The World Bank’s Khalil shared this view, saying that he is perplexed as to why the South African Government would put obstacles in place for cables that want to land in the country, especially if it is funded by private industry players.

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SEACOM clear to land?