27 May 2010

Tanzania: First Phase of ICT Broadband Backbone is Activated Nationwide

The National Information Communication and Technology Broadband Backbone (NICTBB) was switched on yesterday in 16 regions after the completion of the first phase of its construction.

The move brings the hope of increased efficiency and reduced Internet charges in Tanzania.

The backbone, which is the terrestrial continuation of the fibre optic submarine cables that landed in Dar es Salaam recently, has already led to a 99 per cent drop in Internet capacity charges.

Internet service providers (ISPs) who spoke to The Citizen on the new development were optimistic that the backbone would greatly contribute to the reduction of charges of Internet services to consumers. However, they said that despite the significant reduction of broadband capacity charges, other factors, which have not changed much, have a role to play in determining Internet and data charges.

Seacom Tanzania Limited managing director Anna Kahama-Rupia said her company would decrease its charges in the near future, but could not give a time frame for the reduction.

"We had to pass through Kenya for us to reach the landlocked countries of Rwanda and Burundi, but with the national backbone we shall easily penetrate through all regions in the country and reach those across the borders," she said.

Mr Sanctus Msimbe, the SimbaNet corporate business manager said other factors, despite broadband capacity charges, were important in determining the pricing of Internet and data connectivity to consumers.

He mentioned the factors as the Internet and data (content) prices from international providers.

Capacity charges are costs incurred for using the infrastructure to transmit the Internet bandwidth or data. The capacity transmission services come in both protected and non-protected options.

There are also expenses incurred by ISPs for connecting consumers with the backbone.

He also said the minimum annual capacity (STM-1) to be provided through the new backbone is still too much and too expensive for most of the ISPs in the country.

"I would advise the government to come up with smaller capacity offerings than STM-1, because, apparently, business models for most ISPs cannot afford to pay $180,000 per year," he said.

The NICTBB project that was embarked on in 2008 and is expected to cost about Sh251 billion when it is completed countrywide at the end of this year.

Its operational management will be handled by the Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL).

The director for Information and Communication Technologies at the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, Dr Zaipuna Yonah, told The Citizen on Monday that work to construct the infrastructure was completed for phase I routes and that it was ready for use.

"The work for phase one has been completed, this includes about 16 regions where we think have ICT potential users," he said.

"Whereas initially, distance was also considered on setting charges for transmitting any capacity, Tanzania Telecommunication Company Limited (TTCL) will now be charging flat-rate independent of the distances."

The backbone has the capacity to carry on all information and link ups with international sub-marine cables that connect the country to the rest of the globe, he said.

The project is funded by a $170 million soft loan from China and Sh30 billion from government sources.

For many years the country was depending on the microwave (satellite) that was inefficient and expensive.

According to Dr Yonah, the first part of the project covers three routes, Northern Ring I that has point of presence in Babati, Arusha, Moshi and Tanga. And Nothern Ring II covering Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Iringa, Dodoma and Singida.

While the third route (Western Link I and II) have point of presence in Shinyanga, Mwanza, Geita, Biharamulo, Rusumo and Kambanga.

The completed routes link the country to neighboring countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda.

"Although some of phase II works have been covered in phase I, we are set to complete other routes such as those connecting us to Zambia and Malawi by the end of this year," said the engineer.

With availability of the infrastructure, the country will have no excuse to exploit the ICT potentials in nearly all socio-economic and political areas.

Of late Internet has become not a luxurious service but rather part and parcel to many developing countries.

However analysts question on how Tanzania, the country that aspires to be an ICT hub in the region, has prepared its people on tapping all potentials in provision of various digital services including e-government, e-business, e-education, e-health, e-tourism and others.

"With such a reliable connectivity, every one should think on how they can tap the ICT potentials in their areas of interest, be it in tourism, education, or in governance," said Dr Yonah.

Already neighboring countries that are landlocked have expressed interest to use the newly built national ICT backbone so as they can get international links via the submarine cables that landed at the Indian Ocean shores recently.

Such countries include Zambia, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi.

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