Last summer while in Sierra Leone I discovered firsthand the difficulties of connecting to the Internet when the only option was via satellite. I often sat fruitlessly watching the slow crawl of a site attempting to link up and it made me become more realistic about setting up relationships with schools in Sierra Leone using the Internet, knowing how hard it would be from their end. It also made me admire all the more the Peace Corps Volunteers who were blogging, say Bryan Meeker (whose latest post “What Makes a Volunteer” is incredibly moving).
So how wonderful to learn that today Sierra Leone is getting its first fibre optic cable that will make an enormous difference in the speed, reliability, and range of its Internet connections. The details are in this Reuters article:
Sierra Leone will secure its first fibre optic connection to the outside world on Monday with the arrival of theAfrica Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable in the capital Freetown.
Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, is part of a dwindling group of countries still wholly reliant on highly expensive satellite bandwidthfor internet connections.
Numerous studies have identified cheap and fast Internet as a factor that can boost a country’s economic growth.
“The vessel that carries the fiber optic cable is currently within the shores of Sierra Leone,” Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Information said in a statement.
It added the vessel would dock and lay the cable later on Monday at a landing station by Lumley Beach in western Freetown.
When complete, the 17,000-km (11,000-mile) ACE cable will run from France to South Africa, connecting 23 countries. The cable was launched by France Telecom as part of a consortium with telecom operators in participating countries.
Sierra Leone, along with neighbouring Liberia, missed out on previous fibre optic cables laid down the West African coast, such as SAT-3.
“At that time we had a civil war, we didn’t have the opportunity to articulate the arrangement to have a landing station here,” said Senesie Kallon, deputy director general of Sierra Leone’s National Telecommunications Commission.
At present, Internet access in Sierra Leone is currently slow or expensive, and often both.
According to the National Telecommunications Commission, the country as a whole has just 155 Megabits of bandwidth, less than would serve a small American or European town.
The World Bank estimates that bandwidth in Sierra Leone costs 10 times the level in East Africa and 25 times the U.S. price. Barely one percent of the 5.4 million population have access to Internet services.
The World Bank is providing $30 million to fund the connection of Sierra Leone to the cable offshore.
“There was an opportunity to connect Sierra Leone to ACE in 2011 and if the country were to miss that it wasn’t clear there’d be further opportunities,” said Vijay Pillai, the bank’s country manager in Freetown.