South Africa opens up SAT-3 cable system

Monopoly control over Africa's SAT- 3 cable system will officially come to an end Thursday.

Beginning Thursday, monopoly control over Africa's SAT- 3 cable system will officially come to an end, amid fears that the network will run into capacity problems as early as 2009.

South African Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri has declared November 1 as the official date of termination for all exclusive provisions contained in the SAT-3 agreements. The South African government has had control over who gets direct access to the Sat-3 cable system.

Since 2002, consortium members with landing points had an effective monopoly on selling the cable bandwidth in their own countries, and to countries without landing points. As a result, the cost of telecommunications in Africa remained high, since few operators were able to buy capacity.

African regulators, policy makers, nongovernmental organizations and consumers have been pushing for SAT-3 -- which runs from South Africa to West Africa, and then links to cable systems extending to Europe and Asia -- to include more operators to make the market more competitive and bring down telecom costs.

Consortium members included Telkom of South Africa; Camtel of Cameroon; Ghana Telecom; Nitel of Nigeria; Angola Telecom; Maroc Telecom of Morocco; and Namibia Telecom.

The end of SAT-3 monopoly control over access will now subject the cable to international bandwidth business competition.

The scramble for bandwidth that will occur among African countries following the end of the monopoly, however, is raising fears that the cable will run out of capacity, although Telkom is playing down the fear.

Telkom CEO Reuben September said cable utilization is continually being monitored to avoid the occurrence of any capacity shortfall.

Africa currently has a number of cable projects in the works, including the Kenyan East African Marine System, the East Africa Cable Submarine System project and the InfraCO West Coast project. All these projects are meant to spur bandwidth competition and bring down the high cost of telecommunication in the region.

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