April 2002


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Sam Anderson <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 17 Apr 2002 07:00:53 -0700
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          Monday, 15 April, 2002, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
          The great African internet robbery

          [text inserted by the moderator]

          The internet in Africa is hampered by unfair costs

          Africa is being ripped off - to the tune of some $500m
a year - simply for hooking up to the World Wide Web, say Kenyan
internet company chiefs.

          And this extra cost is partly to blame for slowing
the spread of the internet in Africa and helping sustain the
digital divide, they contend. According to Kenya's Internet Service
Providers (ISP) Association, the continent is being forced by
Western companies to pay the full cost of connecting to worldwide

          Chairman Richard Bell says this has led to the unfair
exploitation of the continent's young internet industry. He says
the problem is that International Telecommunications Union regulations
- which ensures the costs of telephone calls between Africa and
the West are split 50:50 - are not being enforced with regard
to the internet.

          "British Telecom doesn't spend one single penny...
America Online doesn't spend one single cent in sending emails
to Africa."

          The total cost of any email sent or received by an
African internet user is borne entirely by African ISPs, Mr Bell
said on the BBC African service programme Talkabout Africa. Despite
the relatively high cost of using the internet in Africa, growth
has been rapid in recent years. All 54 countries are now hooked
up to the internet, and there an  estimated four million subscribers
across the continent . In Kenya alone, there are more than 100,000
subscribers and some 250 cyber cafes across the country.


          Mr Bell said that their association had calculated
that the current and latent demand for bandwidth in Africa cost
about $1bn per year. And he said that if data network operators
in the West were forced to adhere to the same regulations as
voice operators then they would have to pay half the cost. "The
only reason this doesn't happen at the moment is that European
and  North American operators are not prepared to pay their share
of the costs."

          "This is exploitation... These networks are raping
Africa of half a billion dollars a year."

          He said that the G8 group of leading nations were responsible
for this inequitable trade and at some point had to act to halt
it, if they were serious about trying to bridge the digital divide.

          And he said that they as an association now planned
to push for this change.


          They are also calling on African countries to take
action by getting together to reduce their costs.

          A proposal called the Halfway Proposition urges fellow
African countries to create national exchanges and then interconnected
regional ones - as has occured in other parts of the developing

          This would at least mean that the communications costs
for intra-African emails stay within Africa - rather than the
West benefiting from the cost of an email.

          Mike Jenson, who runs the Africa Interconnectivity
web site and is surveying the current utilisation of broadband
on the continent, agrees that this could make a difference.

          "No one really knows how much intra-African traffic
there is, but it's sure to grow and become significant if it
isn't already," he told BBC News Online.

          "If only 5% is intra-regional, it would add up to a
sizeable amount," he said.