I have no real clue how the internet really works. I just know a bunch of tricks to try when my wireless system decides not to cooperate. Given easy frustration with the last steps of the connection, it is easy to overlook the fact that the global internet system relies on actual cables. Until, of course, they get cut. Evidently three of the cables providing service to countries in the Middle East and Asia are “thought to have been damaged by a ship” off the coast of Sicily earlier this month. While the affected countries have been able to re-route much of their communication, and ships with robotic subs have been deployed to fix the cable, many African nations are working on a new high-speed fiber optic cable.
The proposed East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) would run from the Arabian Peninsula, to Mombasa, Kenya, speeding up internet service across the continent. The cable is being funded by roughly twenty of the countries that will be connected, various telecom companies, European and African development groups, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a body of the World Bank. According to this article, consumers along Africa’s eastern coast pay some of the worlds highest prices for international internet connections, and the new cable could reduce these prices by two thirds. There have been delays, and frustration among the supporting members, but an effective cable would mean a great deal.
Why is high speed internet valuable? Well, besides making one less crazy when trying to look at image heavy pages or even just pulling down news sites, I see three broad reasons why it’s important to increase connectivity:
1. Making the internet cheaper. Hopefully, the higher bandwidth of the cable would help drop the cost of internet access, especially for those who use internet cafés as their primary source of connection. These connections are not tremendously expensive but they can become a significant cost if one expects use it regularly or spend a long time exploring the web, and the prices exclude many of the very poorest. Lower costs for internet connections might also allow the expansion of internet services to a wider area allowing more people easy access to internet connections. As I discussed in my previous post, access to information is crucial for spurring innovation.
2. Building an information economy. East African counties can work towards building their economic strength on IT based industry, helping to diversify the country’s sources of income and providing a sector that could experience sustained growth, producing more skilled and high paying jobs.
3. Providing easier access to educational and research materials. Students in universities and secondary school should be able to utilize a wide range of internet resources. However, the lack of cheap internet connections, especially high speed connections that make it easy to download large PDF documents and access major databases are an impediment to providing the best possible access to information. Hopefully cheaper internet could increase the number of students accessing the internet and higher speeds would make it easier for them to do research online.
This list is far from complete or extensive, but here’s to hoping that the recently under construction cable stays connected.