Is the Internet bandwidth bonanza really coming to Africa?
Satcom is the African satellite industry’s annual get-together and this year’s was held this week. On the second day of the conference the West African Cable System announced the signing of an over-subscribed fundraising. And this is only one of half a dozen international fiber projects that will be built. At the conference itself, new satellite entrants announced services that were both innovative and cheaper.
This is some more good news for people trying to write blog posts and upload pictures from Bugalobi:) Speaking to anyone in Kampala it doesn’t take long before a reference is made to the coming Seacom cable. From government officials, academics, entrepreneurs to Internet café users, everyone places their hope on improved Internet access. Until this happens it’s really hard to talk about the potential of the Internet here in Uganda and what kind of impact it might have on the local industry.
The real hurdle is simply the staggering cost of bandwidth and the few number of players who control the business. In a less capital intensive game it might be reasonable to assume that free market prices would have dropped considerably and that most people would have had access by now. But the reality is that communication in Africa remains more expensive (as % of GDP) then anywhere else in the world (40% more than in the United States).
I ask people here if they are planning to organize a launch party when the cable arrives. Till now I only get a blank stare in response. Its clear people have been reading these stories for some time now. It was already fifteen years ago that they announced the Africa One project, a cable that would circumnavigate the continent. After years of delay the initiative was eventually cancelled. A simple announcement of another cable or satellite project doesn’t improve the situation here and it only serves to fuel speculation. Some say the companies are only fighting out a PR battle and that they don’t even know when new services will be in place. And who say’s that when the cable comes the prices will actually fall as expected? The pricing cartel has existed for years and its in the industry’s interest to keep it this way.
Officially the Seacom cable is supposed to arrive here in Kampala sometime this summer. People tell me they will ‘believe it when they see it!’