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Infrastructure, Costs Hurdles for Internet Services in Southern Africa

[Dar Es Salaam, 21 June 2000] - The lack of telecommunications infrastructure and the high cost of Internet services in Southern Africa were cited yesterday by the MD of the Tanzanian Telecommunications Company Ltd as the reasons for the sluggish uptake in Internet services amongst Southern African Development Community member countries.

Speaking yesterday at the 20th Annual South African Telecommunications Association Experts Conference, Asenath Mpatwa commented that it is the lack of a reliable telecommunications infrastructure that is preventing SADC member countries from leveraging off the fastest growing telecoms business in the world, that of Internet services.

Mpatwa noted that of the SADC countries, South Africa claimed 122 Internet hosts, Namibia 640 hosts, Botswana 550 hosts, Zimbabwe 590 hosts while the other SADC member countries boasted less than 500 Internet hosts. Representatives from eleven SADC countries are gathered in Dar Es Salaam for the conference. These countries are South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mauritius and Swaziland with Namibia voluntarily absenting itself.

Mpata highlighted too the prohibitively high cost of Internet services in the region as another factor inhibiting growth. She further challenged the member states to work together to overcome these factors, notably when it comes to fitting the costs of establishing telecoms infrastructure in rural african areas. The imminent creation of a rural telecommunications fund is the first step in that direction, she noted.

The SADC member states indicated that forming consortiums to jointly bid for newly privatized telecommunications companies would be another such strategy. This was isolated as one of the few available options left to SADC member countries as these countries did not boast networks sizeable enough to attract larger European and US telecoms operators.

A regional telecoms consortium responsible for controlling the telecoms infrastructure and hence Internet services for the region, independent of any government control, would enable an efficient pooling of resources that could at least make African Internet services competitive with those in the rest of the developing world.

This, of course, would only represent the first battle of a lengthy war. Tanzania's Minister for Telecommunications and Transport, Ernest Nyanda commented that such a consortium would also be able to lower tariffs as well as improve services. "High tariffs, like those charged in our region, limit access to services for a few people." he commented.



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