ACE cable now operational in Sierra Leone

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Station Manager at the Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SLCL), Claudius John, has said that the fibre optic station has been operational since it was commissioned by President Ernest Bai Koroma last year.

John, who was speaking in an exclusive interview with Concord Times on Wednesday July 31 at their head office on Beach Road, Lumley, said the fibre submarine cable is buried in the seabed and that the UPS is powered by the battery banks which give direct current to the control room.

"We are connected to countries in a circular form, including France, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Congo and Sao Tome," said the SLCL station manager. "If any fault occurs, the light on the screen will indicate the colour according to percentage of the fault."

General Manager of SLCL, Mohamed Sheriff, said fibre optic is a transport technology which is undertaken by Sierratel on the national backbone project to build the fibre road from Rogbere Junction to the northern part of the country by the Guinea border and ECOWAN, which is the wider area network,to the south-eastern part of the country onto the Liberia border.

He said when the fibre road installation is finished, then they would begin work in the central part of Freetown with State House as the network point that will feed areas like Parliament and Youyi building, among others.

Speaking on the divestiture, Sheriff suggested that the most suitable post-divestiture operating structure of SALCAB would be as a non-profit 'cooperative' owned by the network operators who initially subscribe to SALCAB.

These operators would, in addition to the shares they own in SALCAB, also own a corresponding proportion of the submarine cable assets (bandwidth capacity and international gateway access), which they can use to carry on their business of providing telephony and internet businesses in the country (and possibly sell excess capacity to other markets in the region or elsewhere), he explained.

"In this vein, the consultants also seem to suggest that if SALCAB operates as a pure commercial entity, selling wholesale international bandwidth to all operators in the country, [it] would essentially be a 'middleman' that would only add costs but not value and would extract monopoly rents (in other words applying unnecessary additional charges for which it does not work or create any value)," Sheriff said.

"The draft MoU states in Section 2.19 that '...Government is not financing their purchase of SALCAB shares and related capacity rights, but is rather accepting delayed reimbursement of money it had already advanced to SALCAB while it was wholly owned by GoSL'."

He also suggested that any post-divestiture structure, other than where SALCAB operates as a non-profit cooperative, is an "unnecessary interposition of a middleman (which would add cost but not value and would likely attempt to extract monopoly rents) between the ACE cable system and the larger private sector network operators (GSM and ISP) who have the ability to deliver the international capacity to end users".

The SLCL general manager disclosed that government is engaged in the development of a terrestrial fibre optic project, which runs through the country and links up with neighbouring countries, adding that the key objective of this investment is to provide a backhaul link to the cable, which covers many parts of the country and connects with neighbouring countries.

"We cannot find any rationale why government should subsidise 5 operators to own the infrastructure, when government's interest in SALCAB could be divested via shares and attract wider subscription," he stressed.

He noted that the principle of promoting access to and sharing of the ACE cable (and by extension the ECOWAN and National Fibre Network Cables) as an essential facility to be used by all operators can be better implemented if SALCAB operates not as a cooperative owned by 5 or 6 private operators, but as a regulated monopoly whose shares are open to the general public, including the telecommunications operators.