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East African Fiber Goes Live While Benin Goes Dark

By Wayan Vota on July 27, 2009

To great fanfare the Seacom fiber optic cable from London to South Africa, was turned on this past Thursday. Offering 10,000 Mbps capacity to bandwidth starved East Africans, there was great hope that connection speeds would instantly jump once the cable was turned on.

Seacom fiber optic cable

But it seems that not only will bandwidth capacity remain spotty, it will also stay relatively expensive for a while longer. Seacom is not revealing which Internet Service Providers have signed up for the bandwidth, and none of the ISPs are lowering rates. As Twitter chatter and The Times confirms, they are only speaking of increasing bandwidth caps, and only in “coming soon” terms:

An executive of a leading Internet service provider, who would not be named, said: “There will be no impact on the consumer. International broadband is a small component of data consumption , unless you’re a huge corporation constantly moving data to Europe.”

Frost and Sullivan ICT analyst Lindsey McDonald, said: “The changes will be gradual. We’ll most likely see better packages, higher speeds and more value in general as suppliers feel the need to compete.”

So while Kenya and Uganda Internet users wait impatiently for bandwidth relief, Benin is experiencing a whole other undersea cable bandwidth issue. Theresa Carpenter Sondjo reports that:

In the wee hours of the morning, a ship dropped anchor and cut Benin’s undersea connection to the world. White collar workers in Cotonou and business men flipped, but the vast majority of the country (99% and counting) won’t notice any difference in their daily lives. Maybe bank transactions will be a bit tougher, but that’s par for the course here anyway.

And of course, there’s no way to be sure that the problem is the undersea cable. Or that it was an anchor. Friends of ours who work for Benin Telecoms have whispered it, others have refused to confirm anything at all. There is no official word (and may not be). Repair estimates for whatever has happened vary from 2 days to 2 weeks.

Until then, the few public satellite Internet cafes are being mobbed. Lines to use computers are out the door and down the block. And while its little solace to East Africa, may they count themselves lucky to have Internet bandwidth at all.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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3 Comments to “East African Fiber Goes Live While Benin Goes Dark”

  1. Wayan Vota says:

    Oui! I don’t know about all of Kenya, or even all of Nairobi, but I can say that at least the Country Lodge Hotel has a +300 kbps connection this morning, according to my speed test from their lounge.

  2. Quick update: We were only cut off for three days. Although the SAT-3 has not yet been repaired, Benin Telecoms, the state run ISP, is renting bandwidth from neighboring countries and turning on a fair number of VSATs. I was surprised at how fast BT found a temporary solution. They’re not generally known for their ingenuity, nor responsiveness, but they sure did step up to the plate this time.

    The connection is slow, but usable.

  3. Wayan Vota says:

    This doesn’t sound good – Nigeria was also blacked out by the SAT-3 cut and will not be online for 10+ days:

    “In Nigeria, the damage to the SAT-3 cable has affected approximately 70 percent of the country’s bandwidth, “crippling” bank services and Internet access. Access issues in the country are further complicated by the failure of Nigerian telecommunications operator Nitel to pay its dues to the SAT-3 Consortium, which has disconnected the Nigerian end of the cable.”

    http://opennet.net/blog/2009/07/damaged-cable-causes-internet-blackout-four-west-african-countries