DELAYS RAISE EASSY PROJECT COST TO MORE THAN $440M

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The cost of the delayed East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) has shot up to $440 million. Part of the sharp increase in costing is attributed to a planned link with European networks. This surprising revelation was made in Dar es Salaam during a conference on the regional information and communication technology broadband network and the EASSy project.

The cost for laying the cable along the East African coast was previously put at $240 million, but with plans for its extension to Mauritius and Europe, the cost has gone up. This adds to the challenges the project has so far faced. Recently, Kenya announced plans to launch The East African Marine Systems (Teams), a parallel project to EASSy. South Africa also announced similar plans to launch an alternative cable supported by its private sector.

Information obtained by The EastAfrican indicate that another cable, sponsored by South Africa, may be laid because of a clash between private investors wanting to profit and the government demanding cheaper bandwidth to reduce the cost of doing business and stimulate economic growth.

The Director-General of the Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority John Nkoma told the ministers' meeting on ICT infrastructure that the need for submarine and terrestrial cables in Africa "is long overdue."

Professor Nkoma said there is a need for African countries to be interconnected by broadband fibre-optic cable systems that would in turn link them to the rest of the world through existing or planned submarine cable systems.

Many African countries are dependant on the expensive SAT-3/WASC, which makes communication on the continent unaffordable to the majority. The Rwanda Minister of State for Energy and Communications, Albert Butare, highlighted the importance of regional connectivity and affordability of communication services after implementation of the project. He pointed out that the EASSy cable fibre optic would be more efficient and cheap thus likely to attract more investors to African economies.

"Rwanda is eagerly waiting for the project to start because it will provide alternative connectivity to satellite, which is expensive to most people," said Butare.

The Malawian delegation to the meeting said that the Nepad e-Africa commission should speed up implementation of the project "as it had been delayed for too long." Even though Kenya has threatened to go it alone if the project is delayed further, it reiterated on the importance of efficient and affordable regional connectivity and expressed its commitment and readiness to collaborate to ensure that the regional connectivity initiative "is soon accomplished."

The EASSy project aims to reduce tariffs and provide ample connectivity and capacity among African countries. A previous meeting held in Bagamoyo resolved that the tendering process should go on as planned so that the project is completed by 2008 as scheduled.

At an earlier meeting held in Cape Town, South Africa, in June 2005, the availability of more than $200 million in investment for the project was confirmed. The meeting was held to announce the EASSy project to commercial, telecommunications and banking audience with a view to attract investment and capacity commitment.

Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited was one of the companies in a consortium that were given the responsibility of initiating the project in 2002. Others were Telkom Kenya, Uganda Telecommunications Corporation, MTN, Zanzibar Telecommunications and data operators.

The East African