A task force has been appointed to spearhead the launch and the completion of a regional fibre optic cable project.

A press release issued after a three-day meeting on the stakeholders of the eastern and southern African submarine cable system (EASSy), said the project would be formally launched next month.

Some 23 eastern and southern Africa countries had been meeting in Nairobi to iron out their differences that have delayed the submarine cable project that aims at improving telecommunication connectivity in the region. The conference brought together governments and private companies to reach agreement on EASSy.

The project seeks to bring down telecommunications costs, but has been riddled with controversy, including questions over who will own it. Options include a members-only ownership and open access - to ensure anybody can buy a shares in a manner similar to a listed company.

Information and Communication permanent secretary, Bitange Ndemo, said at the end of the meeting that the major differences had been settled, and the task force would finalise any other issues that would arise with regard to the project.

The $240 million (Sh17.6 billion) EASSy project has also generated heated arguments over its financing, with the promoters seeking to finance the project in a bid to make big profits from non-member telecommunication operators.

The date for completion of the project has been set as 2008 if no further hitches are experienced. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) e-Africa Commission is mandated to help develop Africa's information communication technology, under which EASSy falls.

The task force will finalise issues relating to the EASSy shareholders agreement and the Construction and Maintenance Agreement (CMA) of the cable network.

The press release invited development finance institutions to come forward and provide funds for the speedy implementation of the EASSy and other Nepad projects. During the meeting, the parties to the project agreed to the formation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which will manage the cable system. A company would be formed to run the SPV so that it would have the legal mandate even to seek funds. The SPV will develop, operate and maintain the network segments and offer wholesale capacity to licensed service providers, in a way that is fair to all current and future operators.

The Nation