COTE D’IVOIRE - INTERNET POTENTIAL DESPITE POLITICAL UPHEAVALS

2 March 2000

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Despite recent political upheavals, the internet in Cote D’Ivoire continues to grow steadily. Although the semi-privatised state telco operates a monopoly, its regulatory regime has been sufficiently liberal to encourage new operators. As a regional hub for the computer industry it should have considerable future potential.

Kokou Adediha looks at what’s happening.

The part-privatised state telco, Cote D’Ivoire Telecom, received support from USAID’s Leland Initiative to establish a national and international internet hub and start its own Internet services. This was the starting point for the internet in Cote D’Ivoire.

There are now four commercial ISPs: Africa Online, Globeaccess, a joint venture with the French company Omnes (http://globeaccess.net), Afnet and Aviso (http://www.aviso.ci). One of the original pioneer ISPs - Netafric - is no longer operating. The Centre Syfed of AUPELF/UREF is a not-for-profit organisation that provides free access to the internet. 51% of Cote’D’Ivoire Telecom was bought by France Telecom in 1997 and it was granted a seven year monopoly on the provision of land telephony services.

The latter is operate by the state telco is the latest into the market is believed to hold about 50% share although accurate figures are not easy to obtain. In 1999 Centre Informatique Regional de Côte d’Ivoire estimated there were 4,500 subscribers and this is believed to have risen to just under 10,000. This implies that there might be around 40,000 users overall.

Current bandwidth available is 33.6 Kb/s but progress will be made soon in widening this. The main clients for the ISPs are private companies and cybercafes which are developing very rapidly in the country’s capital Abidjan. Most private users - apart from European "expats" and the more senior government officials - have to make do with cybercafes for their access. Cybercafes charge CFA 4000 francs per hour for accessing the internet and CFA 1000 francs for sending e-mails.

The universities have a VSAT network linking Abidjan (Cocody ans Abobo-Adjame Universities), Bouake (Bouake 1 and 2), Daloa and Yamoussoukro (INPHB, Institut National Polytechnique Houphouet Boigny). The latter was one of the first universities to get access to the internet. In these universities, students can surf for about CFA 4000 francs per month. Several Ivorian NGOs provide free information and advice on web access including Amour de Commune and Desforges Communication.

There are two main obstacles to individual connection: the high cost of individual connection (CFA 30,000 francs before tax) and the cost of a computer which is still seen as a luxury item.

The market for computers and peripherals is estimated at US$50 million and the total number of computers installed in the country is currently estimated to be at 50,000 units. Just under 10% of these units are inthe government sector. However, many obstacles still affect the proper development of the computer industry sector.These obstacles include high customs duties, lack of available funding for the acquisition of computer equipment, and low quality area wide networks due to the inadequate telephone lines. However second-hand computers are available locally for CFA 300,000 francs and this growing market may open further access.

Cote D’Ivoire Telecom has invested about US$2 million in uograding its infrastructure and these improvements have cut previously lengthy waiting lists. The upgraded infrastructure will offer opportunities for VOIP telephony but there are no players offering this service publicly.

The liberalization of the mobile phone sector by the government of Cote d’Ivoire three years ago has also helped meet part of the Ivorians’communication needs. As a result, after three years of operation, COMSTAR, TELECEL and SIM (Societe ivoirienne de Mobiles) the three authorized cellular phone companies, have connected more than 260,000 subscribers to their network which is similar to the number of subscribers to the fixed telephone estimated at 240,000 subscribers in December 1999. The success of cellular phones is mainly due to the flexibility of connection enhanced by the launch of prepaid cards. With a total number of over 500,000 subscribers, the Ivorian telephone network was congested mainly because of the unexpected growth of the cellular phone market not matched by the former digitalization plan of 6 digits. This situation has now been eased with the 8-digit upgrade finished in January 2000.

The Ivorian government has put a high policy priority on getting the country connected. In July 1997, an 11-member council called CNAI (Conseil National des Autoroutes de l’Information) was established to advise the government on issues related to:

   development of the information technology networks in Cote d’Ivoire,

   funding of projects in the Internet area.

   coordination and monitoring of all public and private initiatives pertaining to the information highways.

   setting up of a regulatory frame work for the production and the management of multimedia programs.

As ever, progress from policy imperative to implemented action has been slower. As a regional hub fore the computer industry Cote D’Ivoire has considerable potential if it can avoid recent political upheavals.

Kokou Adediha of Desforges Communications can be contacted on: desforges@webmails.com

(Additional information from the US Department of Commerce)