Lack of consensus threatens EASSy cable

By   |  September 28, 2006

The 31 telecommunications companies involved in developing and implementing the East African Submarine system (EASSy) cable system have said that the 23-nation protocol to build the under-sea cable is unacceptable to them and could lead to them abandoning the project.

This is a psychological blow to the initiative, which has already received a body blow when 16 of the 23 member countries behind the initiative snubbed the signing of the implementation plan in Kigali three weeks ago.

On top of that, the Kenya government has pulled out of the EASSy project and is instead planning to build a submarine cable of its own. Kenya’s lone fibre optic cable is expected to cost $110m and would run from Mombasa to Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman.

A press statement issued by John Sihra, the co-ordinator of the EASSy project said that the protocol, as presented in the Rwandan capital, Kigali does not reflect the consensus that was reached by the partners of the EASSy project in a meeting that was held in Nairobi in July 2006.

“The protocol in its current form is unacceptable to the EASSy parties/promoters,” the statement reads in part.

“It will delay the implementation of the EASSy cable to the extent of it being abandoned. It cannot be overstressed that any protocol must have the support and buy-in of all stakeholders.”

Sihra’s statement was meant to dispel the belief that the operators and those governments that chose not to support the signing of the protocol in Kigali three weeks ago were being unreasonable and against the development of the EASSy cable system.

The protocol, according to Sihra’s statement, proposes a regional government structure that will own, implement, control and operate the EASSy system that was rejected as being inappropriate, unworkable and in direct conflict with the deregulated telecom environment and national regulations.

The promoters say the protocol does not have the buy-in of all the stakeholders, most notably, the region’s telecommunications operators and certain governments.

Sihra said this seriously undermines the commercial viability of future regional ICT infrastructures and most importantly, the EASSy system being developed by the EASSy parties.

As it is now, it appears that the seven governments that put pen to paper to sign the protocol together with NEPAD’s e-Africa commission and the EASSy developers and implementers are on a collision course.

“The EASSy parties clearly appreciate the governments’ legitimate policy concerns about the development of the ICT infrastructures in the region.

“The EASSy hybrid special purpose vehicle (SPV) ownership and operational structure as was discussed and agreed, incorporates public policy interests that ensure the region’s development objectives are being met.”

While the EASSy members (telecom companies drawn from all 23 countries) say they are open to any meaningful suggestions, they add that any policy solutions must respect the roles accorded to operators, policy makers and regulators.

The statement said all concerned must respect the intellectual and property rights with regard to the progress made to date by the EASSy parties. Sihra said members want the protocol to promote an enabling regulatory and operating environment.

“If it does not have the endorsement of all stakeholders, it would be counterproductive. The EASSy parties therefore reserve the right to accept or reject any terms and conditions of such a protocol,” Sihra’s statement said.

EASSy brings together countries in southern and eastern Africa with the objective of launching the cable to cut telecommunication costs. The 9 900 km cable will link Durban in South Africa and Port Sudan in Sudan, with six landing points along the way.

Speaking at the Highway Africa Conference that ended last week, Nepad’s executive deputy chairperson at the e-Africa Commission, Dr Henry Chasia, said though Kenya’s decision to pull out of EASSy was regrettable, the project will go on as scheduled. — Hana

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