$70m Financing boost sets Eassy fibre cable project back on track

Telecoms

Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) has secured key financing, raising hopes that Kenyan consumers can start enjoying cheaper Internet connectivity in early 2009.

It becomes the second of Kenya's three competing submarine fibre optic projects to complete its financing plan with the support of five development finance institutions.

Implementation of the EASSy project, a public-private partnership, has been dogged by wrangles among member states that have left it trailing the private sector-led Seacom.

"This is a significant moment in the development of infrastructure in Eastern Africa," said Sammy Kirui, the chairman of the EASSy consortium and Telkom Kenya managing director.

National Service provider Telkom Kenya hosts the secretariat for the project, which draws membership from more than 12 African states.

Mr Kirui said EASSy had received the entire long-term financing of $70.7 million from the IFC, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), Germany's (KfW) and the AFD of France.

The total cost of EASSy - a two-part project offering international connectivity through a sub-marine cable and regional links through a back haul link - is estimated at $235 million.

More than 25 private telecoms companies that are part of the consortium's membership are expected to provide the rest of the financing.

Earlier in the month, Seacom, a private undersea fibre optic initiative whose cable will follow the same path as EASSy, announced that it had obtained financing and was moving into the construction phase.

Seacom has invested more than $10 million in the marine survey and engineering of its cable and fixed June 2009 as its ready for service date.

This leaves the Kenyan-government driven - the East African Marine System (TEAMs) - trailing in the race to land high speed internet on the East African coast.

"From a consumer's standpoint, the more cables there are the better, as they will compete on the pricing," said Mr Kirui.

East African consumers of bandwidth typically pay between $200 and $300 a month for relatively low speed connectivity. With the arrival of fibre optic cables, these prices are expected to fall by up to two thirds.

In March, EASSy members formally signed a contract with French telecommunications firm Alcatel-Lucent to lay the submarine cable on a full turn key basis.

Construction of the EASSy system is now expected to be complete by the first quarter of 2009. EASSy was first conceptualised in 2003, when Eastern Africa telecom operators set up a steering committee to examine the viability of implementing a submarine optical fibre cable system that will connect the Eastern Africa seaboard and the land locked countries to the rest of the world.

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