Squabbles that delayed EASSY, the Africa submarine cable project aimed at connecting Africa to the rest of the world, have been resolved and the venture is moving ahead as planned, according to project officials.
A meeting of information and communication technology (ICT) ministers from eastern and southern African countries helped resolve disagreements among project participants, according to Sammy Kirui, the chairman of EASSY's project management team.
The EASSY project was established to build a submarine cable system to provide fiber-optic telecommunications facilities on the east coast of Africa and link northern and southern African international gateways.
The meeting last week was arranged by the e-Africa Commission, a body chartered by the New Partnership for Africa's development (NEPAD). NEPAD was founded by the Organization of African Unity to develop an integrated socioeconomic development framework for Africa.
Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa are among the countries whose ministers attended the meeting last week and endorsed the project's immediate start.
Kirui said that project's problems, including a debate over open access, have been resolved and the laying of the cable is likely to start between July and September. The US$200 million project is expected to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2007 though it is already behind schedule by four months. Project construction was scheduled to start in the first quarter of this year. The project managers are still evaluating bids from companies vying to lay the cable.
The EASSY project, with 33 telecommunications operators participating, had been surrounded by disagreements over the definition of "open access." Project managers and a consortium of operators formed to promote the project preferred a "members-only" use of the cable, contrary to the position of the World Bank and NEPAD. The project managers said that participation in the project should be limited to service providers with international gateway licenses.
NEPAD and nongovernmental organizations that took a leading role in securing US$150 million in grants for the project, however, insisted that fiber-optic capacity be offered to ISPs (Internet service providers) and other nonmember telecom operators for free, and that service providers without gateway licenses should also be allowed to use the infrastructure.
The disagreement has been put to rest, with all project members promising to work together to ensure the success of the continental project seen as a remedy to Africa's high telecommunication costs, according to Kirui.
"We resolve to contribute to the harmonious, balanced, equitable and sustainable development of our countries by facilitating the speedy construction of the regional backbone ICT infrastructure network and to facilitate the formation of an entity or entities to own, maintain and operate the infrastructure on an open access principle basis," according to a statement issued by the ministers at the end of last week's meeting.