Central African CAB program must spend US$215m funding effectively

The much under-served area of Central Africa (CA) will soon benefit from a US$215 million, high speed Internet project, but is it enough and will the money be spent effectively?

The first phase of the ten year program, called Central Africa Backbone (CAB), plans to lower the costs and raise the availability of broadband access in Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic. Existing fibre cable already deployed alongside the Chad-Cameroon sub-sea oil pipeline will boost connectivity and light the capacity needed by users who are presumably, by now, tired of relatively expensive, low-quality access.

According to the World Bank, which has endorsed the project (but which will not be providing all of the funding), the CA region pays the highest amount for its services on the continent. Users in CA spend twice as much per month than other African countries, and up to three times as much as the rest of the world. In other words, it's about time someone stepped in and spent the money to improve the quality and value available.

Phase one commands a budget of just over $26 million, which will likely be spent on lighting the fibre and connecting the countries. Phase two will see Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Principe, and Sudan gain service improvements, at an additional price tag of $130 million. The project needs about $98 million from private sector funding to make it work, but there's no indication where that spend will come from - although the rewards could be high.

The World Bank's recent Information and Communications for Development report identified that for every 10 percentage-point increase in high speed Internet connections there is a corresponding increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points. That's big news for countries in the CA region, but with each country notionally receiving about $19.5 million on average from the budget - even if the public funding is realized - every dollar will need to be made to count; remember that BT's 21st Century Network spend is keyed to about GBP10 billion - albeit a project of a different magnitude.

Nicolas Jacquey
Simon Marshall