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Wrong Priorities: No Terrestrial Backhaul PDF Print E-mail
By Esther Nakkazi

Telecoms and data infrastructure providers as well the government have failed to lay terrestrial backhaul links around the country a problem that will keep bandwidth prices high for a long time and slow development.

Terrestrial links ensure cross-border connectivity and a reduction in bandwidth prices to end-users. The IT community says the links situation can best be described as
‘uncoordinated troop movements’.

Already the $106m National Data Transmission Backbone, which could have contributed to the terrestrial backhaul fibre, has many loopholes. The 168 km of laid fibre in phase one of the project lies idle in the ground with some areas already vandalized or damaged by road repairs and construction.

The private sector particularly MTN and Uganda Telecom have between them fibre laid from Malaba to Katuna to link to Kenya and Rwanda. Government has a few towns linked through the backbone but there is no backhaul for fibre at all to northern Uganda.

The first phase of the government backbone covers Kampala, Entebbe, Jinja and Bombo while the private sector has built fibre from border to border to link up with Telkom Kenya fibre that runs from Malaba to Nairobi to Mombasa as part of the East African Backhaul System (EABs).

EABS is a joint venture project among operators from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. The Backhaul system links all the five East African Community Countries and involves about 30 operators in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Uganda’s IT community through I-Network is disappointed by the lack of government initiative to help bring broadband prices down for consumers. One of the surest ways of doing this would be to invest in a fibre cable.
 
While the Kenya government, which has a 20 percent stake invited the Uganda government to invest in TEAMS; Uganda had other priorities like the fibre network, which now lies idle in the ground. For example if Uganda just had a 10 percent stake in any one of the fibre cables-TEAMS, EASSy or SEACOMS and assuming the private sector consumes 40 percent of the capacity bought for each link paying $100 for 1Mbps, government would collect $ 254 million in revenue after 5 years.

Also if for instance government had a 10 percent link in TEAMS that would guarantee it ownership and capacity of 12Gbps at an estimated cost of less than $14 million. This would create efficiency and facilitate the e-government programme. Ministry of ICT officials said although they were invited to buy shares into TEAMS the government did not take this as a priority. “We would be interested but we do not know our priorities,” commented one official.
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