The Africa Coast to Europe ACE fiber-optic cable, officially commissioned and connected in Sierra Leone Wednesday, is expected to bring about lower communications costs in the country.
The launch this week, presided over by Sierra Leone President Ernest Koroma, is the country's final step in completing the fiber-optic cable, which landed in the country almost two years ago. Switched on in December in Gambia, the 17,000-kilometer-long, fiber-optic cable was co-funded by the World Bank to serve Sierra Leone and 22 other countries including Mali and Niger.
Koroma said the project is an example of the public-private partnership model that his government sees as one of the best ways to move the country to prosperity. He added that the landing and launch of the cable in Sierra Leone marked a milestone in its history and expressed his desire to see people in villages benefit from the initiative as much as people in the city.
"The available bandwidth gives Sierra Leoneans access to an array of Internet-based products including high-speed Web surfing, video streaming, online education, video conferencing, cloud computing, business process outsourcing and many more," the president said.
Owned fully by the government, the cable is the first completed project aimed at boosting the telecom industry to benefit people in the poor West African country and, according to National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) Chairman Siray Timbo, is expected to increase Internet penetration by 20 percent.
"The ACE submarine cable is here to bridge the digital divide," Timbo said. "Operators have to ensure that services are available and affordable. Let us as users take full advantage of the benefits of this infrastructure to promote development in Sierra Leone."
Sierra Leone up to now has depended on expensive and unreliable satellite communications for international telecommunications.
For several years, people in Sierra Leone also have complained about the cost of using a mobile phone in the country even though it has become a necessary part of life.
"The costs of making calls, especially interconnectivity rates, are just too outrageous," said Kadi Bangura, a student of the Institute of Public Administration and Management. "Some of us just go about with our phones to ensure we are reached when the need arises but we don't use our phones as we'd have loved to."
However, fiber-optic connectivity does not always reduce rates, according to industry insiders. Speaking at the Connecting Rural Communities Africa Forum held in Sierra Leone last year, Adel Taher, head of MDIC, the management company that operates Sierratel, noted that 20 of the 54 African countries already connected to fiber-optic cables are still charging monopoly rates.
However, the ACE cable launch should lead nine commercial entities -- Afcom, Afric Cable, Airtel, Comium, Limeline, Nextgen, PCL Holdings, Sierratel and Teltak -- to engage in competition to improve their quality of service delivery, said Francis Davies, chairman of the Sierra Leone Cable Company SALCAB, at the launch event Wednesday.
The new information minister, Alpha Kanu, disclosed that plans are under way to review the Telecommunication Act of 2006 to ensure a level playing ground for all operators.
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