A team of technical experts from the Chinese government are doing a parallel study of their own following the signing of an e-government memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Chinese technology company, Huawei Technologies Limited. The other study is being conducted by a Ministry team.

Dr. Ham Mulira, the minister for communication and ICT said that when the two teams are done with their independent studies, they will come together to draw up a map that will show the government where the optic-fibre cable will pass.

The minister also said that the Uganda government and their Chinese counterparts came to an understanding, which should lead to the development of this infrastructure.

Mulira said: "Government because of financial arrangements got a willing partner who wanted to support developments in different sectors and one of the sectors was Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Because we felt it was an operation priority, we made a decision and asked China to assist."

Mulira pointed out that the government wants to come up with a national ICT backbone to spur new economic activity in the country, and give the population the ability to communicate with the rest of the world easily and boost trade.

He said that the government realises the need for a much faster communication link because fibre optics, though expensive initially, help reduce telecommunication prices given that satellite communication, which is predominantly in use today is expensive.

Mulira said government's move to partner with a development partner to set up a national backbone is not to get a return on investment but to deliver social-economic benefits to the country.

"Just like governments build roads, building of a national ICT backbone is the responsibility of government," Mulira said.

While mobile telephone companies MTN and uganda telecom have partnered to build a fibre-optic link from the Kenya-Uganda border at Malaba to the Uganda-Rwanda border at Katuna, the feeder links off that highway into the countryside will not be considered as economically viable by the private sector.

"That is why government has got to come in and extend this infrastructure where the private players will not reach," Mulira said.

The national backbone Mulira said would feed into the fibre-optic link that will be operated by MTN and uganda telecom, connecting all the districts with fast Internet connectivity.

Ambrose Ruyooka, principal communications officer of the ICT ministry, said the ministry has recently constituted a technical task force to draw up technical and financial feasibility reports on the project whose cost is being finalised.

The task force that was appointed by the ministry under the direction of president Yoweri Museveni is composed of experts in telecoms, Information Technology (IT), regulatory affairs, macroeconomics and financial analysis.

Ruyooka was recently speaking at an I-network organised seminar. He said the backbone would provide for a unified open standard inter-governmental platform.

He said the government would seek a loan for its equity contribution in the project from a yet to be disclosed Chinese financial institution after the completion of the feasibility studies that are ongoing.

However, the government is yet to decide on the project's implementation and management model and a decision is still to be taken on whether the government should outsource the implementation and management of the company to run the infrastructure that will also involve defining connectivity to global information infrastructure.

Highway Africa News Agency

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