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Project to Improve Telecommunications Access for 250 Million in Africa

August 2, 2007 By News Staff

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, will invest in the East African Submarine Cable System, a landmark fiber-optic cable project that will connect 21 African countries to each other and the rest of the world with high-quality Internet and international communications services. The cable will transform the telecommunications landscape in the region as it improves access for 250 million Africans and substantially reduces costs for consumers and businesses. Construction is expected to begin in the next few weeks, with the EASSy cable fully operational by the beginning of 2009.

Consumers along the east coast of Africa typically pay between $200 and $300 a month for Internet access. These prices, some of the world's highest, have an adverse economic impact. Estimates suggest that reducing the price of international communications by 10 percent would benefit consumers here by more than $2.5 billion.  As a result of this project, prices for international connectivity will drop by two-thirds at the outset, and the number of subscribers will triple. Because the project gives open access to service providers, prices will fall further as volume and competition increase.

The cable will run 10,000 kilometers from the continent's southern tip to the African horn, connecting South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan. Another 13 adjoining countries will also be linked to the system as terrestrial backbone networks are completed through a broader World Bank Group initiative: these include Botswana, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

To expand the benefits of the new cable and stimulate traffic, IFC is coordinating its efforts with the World Bank, which is financing a complementary system of terrestrial backhaul and backbone networks through the Regional Communications Infrastructure Program.

"The EASSy cable will complete Africa's integration into the global communications network, with significant development impact for the people of East Africa and the larger region," said IFC Executive Vice President and CEO Lars Thunell.  "Information and communications technologies transform every part of people's daily lives, including how they do business and access global markets, receive government services, and learn."

Capping years of collaboration between the World Bank Group and other global and regional development institutions, governments, and the region's private sector, the project establishes an innovative public-private partnership to expand access to communications.  It addresses a major gap in the global communications infrastructure and is expected to have a profound impact on the region's economic integration and cooperation. The fiber-optic cable will also improve the quality of service.

"Despite the recent growth in connectivity in Africa, there remain severe bottlenecks in the availability of affordable international communications and Internet services," said Mohsen Khalil, IFC's Director of Global Information and Communication Technologies. "The EASSy cable will facilitate the effective entry of

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