SURVEY OF AFRICAN UNIVERSITY CONNECTIVITY FINDS BOTH CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Internet connectivity in tertiary institutions in Africa can be summarized in three ways – too little, too expensive and poorly managed. This is the conclusion of the World Bank sponsored African Tertiary Institutions Connectivity survey (ATICS 2004) which collected information from 83 institutions, representing 40 countries in Africa (full results can be found at www.atics.info). Dr. Roy Steiner, the lead author on the report however emphasized that many opportunites exist to improve the situation and that if African universities work together they can make significant changes in their connectivity status.
The average African university has bandwidth capacity equivalent to a broadband residential connection available in Europe, pays 50 times more for their bandwidth than their educational counterparts in the rest of the world, and fails to monitor, let alone manage, the existing bandwidth, when improving bandwidth management is probably the easiest way for universities to improve the quantity and quality of their bandwidth for educational purposes. As a result, what little bandwidth that is available becomes even less useful for research and education purposes.
However, initiatives within the continent point the way to a different future. North Africa is the most advanced of all regions in Africa because universities in these countries have just recently become members of the EU MED Connect project, which links them to high speed undersea fibre networks. The potential for these types of arrangements hold out the possibility to dramatically alter the bandwidth landscape in tertiary institutions in the near future. But, due to limited national and international fibre backbones, satellite bandwidth will continue to be an important means of obtaining connectivity for many tertiary institutions. Even so, there are significant barriers for these organizations in obtaining authorization to use satellite connectivity, as indicated by only 14 out 52 countries having clearly defined competitive satellite regimes .