Communauté Electrique du Bénin issues tender to operate fibre network over its transmission pylons in Benin and Togo

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Last week the international power utility CEB issued a tender that will allow an external company to operate a fibre network over its transmission pylons in both Benin and Togo. This will do three key things: extend the amount of fibre network available in both countries, potentially connect both countries to their neighbours by more than one route and may help lower national backbone prices in both countries. The Electricity Community of Benin (Communauté Electrique du Bénin – CEB) is an international organisation for both Bénin and Togo, in charge of developing electricity infrastructure in both countries. It is planning to install fibre cables and telecommunication switches alongside its high voltage transmission cables in Benin and Togo. The following routes will be upgraded with fibre cables: - 161 kV power line linking the station of Sakété to the station of Lomé-Aflao via the stations of Cotonou Védoko and Momé-Hagou - 161 kV power line linking the station of Momé-Hagou to the station of Atakpamé via the station of Nanguébo - 161 kV power line linking the station of Sakété to the station of Onigbolo - 161 kV power line linking the station of Nangbéto to the station of Bohicon Telecommunication switches will be installed in the following places : - in Bénin at Cotonou, Sakété, Onigbolo, Bohicon, Djougou, Parakou, Bembèrekè et Natitingou. - in Togo at Lomé, Atakpamé, Nangbèlo, Momé-Hagou, Sokodè, Kara et Alédjo. Interested companies can find tender details in the Jobs and Opportunities column at the bottom of this newsletter. Meanwhile Benin Telecom has opened its fibre connection to Niger allowing that country's incumbent Sonitel to connect to the SAT3 international landing station in Cotonou for the first time. It will also not be long before Burkina Faso also connects by fibre to Benin. The strange case of the disappearing broadband connection Apologies to our readers who may have experienced difficulties and delays in communicating with us over the last two weeks: Balancing Act's UK DSL broadband connection has been off and intermittently operating over the last nine days. African readers may find the tale of what happened interesting and educational. Over the past year and half our broadband connection has been experiencing minute-long outages. Since these could generally be solved by rebooting the modem, we learned to live with them. But by 21 July, the DSL connection was going up and down every few minutes so we had to act. Ironically this sporadic pattern allowed us to retain an e-mail connection for a while but made Internet use hopeless. So we phoned our provider… At this point, it's worth explaining that this saga involves three parties: our network maintenance and hosting company, Nux; our DSL service provider, Nildram; and the actual service provider, BT. Nildram's service is hosted at the local exchange by BT who operate and control the equipment. Some independent service providers have their own equipment in the local exchange but in this case Nildram does not. The game starts with the main parties seeking to hand-off the blame for the outages to others. So Nildram's first questions are whether we can replace the modem and all cables, which we duly do. There is no improvement….So eventually BT Open Reach sends round an engineer. He runs a test on the DSL line and pronounces it sound and proper and that the modem is still at fault. So we replace the modem again…and still no improvement. The service provider Nildram contacts BT who promise to change the card in the port in the DSLAM at the local exchange. Still no improvement…At which point it has been escalated to a BT diagnostic engineer who thinks the line needs a “lift and shift”. DSL lines are often affected by noise from surrounding equipment in the exchange causing them to operate intermittently. But there's a catch…whereas the diagnostic engineer used to be able to authorise a “lift and shift” immediately, he now has to send out a second engineer to check before he can do this. On the Friday five days into the problem, the second engineer arrives and tests the line again and pronounces it completely clear. But he get BT Wholesale to test the noise to signal ratio on the modem and it says that it's below the level that will hold the signal. We put in place plans to change the modem on Monday but are amazed to discover that we have uninterrupted broadband on Saturday and Sunday. But by Monday it's completely down again so we go ahead and change the modem. You've guessed by now that this made no difference whatsoever. So BT promises that it will do the “lift and shift”. But when it reports that it's done it, nothing has improved. So the second engineer returns and again announces after testing that the signal is fine but seeing the emotional pain this is causing phones to check whether the “lift and shift” has been completed. No, it hasn't, which he blames on the service provider Nildram for not issuing a work order. While he's with us, the “lift and shift” is completed and normal service comes back up. The engineer is perfectly pleasant and polite but there are no apologies forthcoming and by this stage, we're so grateful just to be reconnected. Early in the process we ask whether the repair of DSL faults is covered by a Service Level Agreement. No, it is not because DSL is judged not sufficiently reliable to make this possible. Searching blogs on the net to look at similar cases, it is clear ours is not an isolated occurrence. However, those who write to the regulator Ofcom are told the same thing that we are told by our service provider. So whilst household and commercial phone faults are covered by clear response times and penalties, for DSL services the customer is completely unprotected. Only leased lines are covered by service level agreements but a leased line costs US$400 a month as opposed to US$70 for a DSL line. In desperation, we explained to our provider that this DSL connection was vital for running our business and we were given a stern lecture about how we should have a back-up line. But how can we have a back-up line with you as it may suffer from the same issues? Well, the provider says, get it from another provider! And here's the rub…The choices for alternative providers are few and not attractive. Satellite wireless is available but it's expensive and not wholly reliable. Cable can be had from Virgin Media but the blogs are full of wailing, dissatisfied customers. We could seek to find a provider that had its own DSL equipment in the exchange which may be the route to go. There are no wireless service providers covering our area. Finally, the process of fixing the fault is excruciatingly slow. I ring the service provider Nildram but to get through to them and conclude a conversation takes 20-30 minutes every time. On some days I'm making 2-4 calls day. Once through, they bring up a screen they use to share information with BT. But more often than not it's not responding so they ring BT which adds to the time. At one moment of high absurdity, the engineer had two departments of BT on the line while I was juggling our tech support and the person from the service provider Nildram. Of course, once this was achieved a decision took minutes to reach. Each time something was promised it took BT 24 hours to respond. So a fault that was clearly BT's and could probably have been fixed in 3 days (even allowing for the modem replacement routine) actually took nine days to get done. I have nothing but praise for all the individuals we dealt with but the process sucks. And the moral is? Get some serious competition from wireless service providers going otherwise – even with local loop unbundling – the dominant player will still be in charge of the high ground.