Friday, March 17, 2006

Better internet connectivity for East Africa - will it be EASSy?

BBC NEWS | Africa | Warning over African internet cable

BBC news has an article about the EASSy cable to connect East Africa. The cable is supposed to provide direct interconnectivity for the countries of East Africa, and then link them to 'the global fibre optics network'. It sounds great in principle, and if it really does provide people with significantly improved access at reasonable prices that'll be great, but will it?
The article goes on at length about SAT3, the cable connecting countries along the west coast of Africa to each other and to Europe. Like EASSy it was heralded as a breakthrough in communcations that was supposed to provide previously unheard of speeds and reliable, constant connectivity at a low price.
I'll take ghana as an example since that's the market i'm familiar with. The article talks about how
In contrast, Sat3 has led to a huge expansion in internet access in Ghana
Sure there's been an expansion in availability, but is it really accessible to people? Right now ( outside ghana) for $17.99 a month, I can get a broadband connection with an upload of 1.5 to 3 Mbps , and a downstream connection of about half that.

Now let's take Ghana
from internet ghana, i can get a (business) download of 512 kbps and upload of 128 kbps for $225 a month ( of course only after I've paid the set-up fee of $150. There is also a school option of 256/128 k for $100 a month and a $200 set up fee ( it costs more to set up than in an office?)
from busy internet, i can get 512 k for $1,399 a month ( the shared package! it is $2,299 per month for a dedicated connection) This mind you is for downloads, i am kindly informed that uplink speeds are 25% of downlinks...
from ghana telecom, i can get a 256k downlink and 64k uplink for $95 a month (and a $195 installation fee) and for a business, i can get a 512/128k connection for $195 a month and a $295 connection fee.

Sure, the connectivity options are there, but when they are so prohibitively priced, soes that really count? Not to mention the fact that some of these exhorbitant prices are for what is little more than glorified dial-up.

I know i've gone on about this for a while, but I don't see why this should be the case when the cable that links us directly to Portugal lands right on the coast!! Sure, I don't expect to be able to pay $18 a month for a 1.5mbps connection in accra, but really these prices. in case you couldn't tell from the fact that their prices are significantly lower than everyone elses, ghana teleom is the national telecommunications service provider, and basically 'owns' the sat3 infrastructure in ghana.
it has finally opened up to allow access to private companies, but at these ludicrous prices.
The BBC article mentions two causes of these high prices in the SAT3 member countries, the second of which applies to ghana
  • Secondly that companies which dominate their domestic markets are under little pressure to provide a fast, cheap service to their consumers.
this is the case of ghana telecom. there is no incentive to provide improved access, and frankly no penalty for failing to provide it. One of the reasons i've heard for the necessity of the exorbitant prices? "we invested a lot of money in getting the connection, and we have to be able to recoup our investment'. A 2004 study on facilitating access to the west african sat3 connection states that ghana telecom spent $24 million on the sat 3 connection, and also admits that 'only 10 - 15% of the capacity is being used while internet users are demanding more bandwidth.'
Now I'm no economist, but let's take a look at this here. Ghana telecom has made this investment which they need to recoup. they open a miniscule portion of the available bandwidth to private companies at exorbitant prices. these companies in turn offer droadband connections to their customers at similarly high prices. most people are priced out, few people are using the service and ghana telecom does not make as much money as it could.
now how about a scenario in which ghana telecom lowered the prices a bit. more comapnies are able to access the bandwisth, and offer it to people at lower prices. more people access the service, and a host of industries which need a reliable high-spees connection at a reasonable cost relocate to ghana. there is more revenue for the private ISPs, more money for gt and most importantly affordable internet access!
this is hardlya sophisticated argument, and it has been made by many before, but is it really that hard to get?

the news on the east african cable is exciting, and since all these problems with sat 3 have been identified, hopefully it will be spared the same fate. somehow though i don't think it will be that EASSy ( sorry i couldn't resist...)
tags: sat3, eassy, ghana ,telcos, africa, internet access


Ore said...

Hi Belle,
Someone just referred me to your blog. I am running a blogging mentoring project with a colleague and we are seeking more African women bloggers.

If you are interested in mentoring or know people who might be, please get in touch ( You can find more information about the project at



Kwasi said...

I was actually about to blog on the internet issue in Ghana myself. The pricing structure makes absolutely no sense

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...


many thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate the arguments you make on the pricing, which is MORE than prohibitive! Is busyinternet taking us for a ride or what? I know your major beef was with Ghana telecom, but "512 k for $1,399 a month " !!!


thanks for enlightening us on this issue. You rock. Many cheers, will be linking on you my blog:-)