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Fibre Optic Broadband Cables Bring Hope to Beleaguered African Internet Penetration
South Africa enjoys a reputation as one of the most developed countries on the African continent, but when it comes to internet penetration, it risks being labeled a laggard. The launch of Seacom’s fiber optic cable has given the country hope in terms of ADSL speeds, but broadband will have some work to do if it is to remedy the current situation.
A number of international studies have pointed out South Africa’s shortcomings when it comes to ADSL broadband. In 2008, the Department of Communications conducted an international comparative study of telecommunications cost and quality of service comparing South Africa, Chile, Korea, India, Brazil and Malaysia. The results: South Africa had the slowest broadband speeds and consistently high rates. In addition, the growth rate of the Internet is lower than that of its peers. Hopefully, the new fiber optic cables (the Seacom cable is just the first of many) will help address all of these shortcomings.
Seacom’s fiber-optic cable, costing about $600 million (4.4 billion rand), spans 10,625 miles (17,099 kilometers) and is expected to increase broadband speeds in Africa and complement satellite communications, which currently account for most part of the Internet access on the continent. After all, the broadband cable carries the hopes of many African countries. A Kenyan financial analyst says: “… we are moving from the medieval era of connectivity to the 21st century in a very short period of time…” And although its benefits are not yet fully realized, Seacom fiber optic cable won the “Best Pan-African Initiative” award at the 2009 AfricaCom Awards held in Cape Town in November.
Seven more broadband cables are planned to increase ADSL speeds and Internet connectivity in Africa. Kenya already uses an independent broadband cable called Teams, which is owned by the Kenyan government, and the East African submarine cable system is expected to facilitate the massive growth in internet usage that will accompany the World Cup.
Other African countries already benefiting from increased broadband speeds via fiber optic cables include: Tunisia (submarine cable called Hannibal) and Rwanda (provided by Uganda Telecom and Rwandatel).
In September, South Africa published a draft Broadband Policy for comment, part of which states that every citizen of South Africa has the right to basic broadband access. With the World Bank finding that for every 1% increase in broadband access, GDP increases by 1.3%, Seacom’s fiber optic cable is just in time. However, whether South Africans take advantage of cable broadband is entirely up to them.
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