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Goodbye Satellite, Hello Fibre Optic Cable

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Seychelles and the fibre optic cable

The Republic of Seychelles is a developing country comprised of 113 islands. Geographically isolated 900 miles from the east coast of Africa, its 88,000 citizens depend greatly on telecommunications for information from the outside world. While television satellite and mobile phones are readily accessible for Seychellois, only now is high-speed Internet becoming an option through the development of a fiber optic cable.

2009 marked the first steps towards a new era in digital technology for Seychelles with the initiation of the Seychelles East Africa System project (SEAS). The ambitious project aims to connect the Seychelles, using a submarine fibre optic cable, to the already existing Tanzanian fibre optic cable. The fibre optic link, expected to be operational by the second half of 2012, will dramatically improve both telecommunications and Internet access in the Seychelles by strengthening the cable bandwidth to approximately 640GB per second. Following the completion of a study in 2011 in order to gauge the environmental and social impact of the cable a French company Alcatel was delegated the task of constructing the cable.

The cable will cover a distance of 1,930 kilometres, stretching from Seychelles’main island of Mahé to the existing Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System in Tanzania.

Faster speed, reduced costs

The new cable’s international transmission capacity, estimated at being seven times cheaper than current Internet prices, this has created a buzz for Seychelles businesses. Currently, large Seychellois companies are being billed around US $25,000 per month by satellite Internet providers for use of their band-with. The band-with costs of the new cable will be a fraction of the total cost, no doubt one of its most attractive benefits. The current internet plans offered by the major providers limit an average user’s internet usage due to the high connection costs. The new cable will leave people with a little extra money at the end of the month, a welcome change during this financially constricting time.

The digital future

When it comes down to it, what is this new internet cable going to provide the Seychelles people with? Clearly, the biggest benefit will be access to consistently fast and reliable internet service. Currently Seychelles suffers from frequent spotty and easily interrupted internet connections. But furthermore, who will it benefit? Banking, Tourism, Tele-communications and education are just some of the fields that have been marked for improvements in efficiency and professional capability following the cable’s installation.

An example of a field currently lacking is the education sector. The level of tertiary education in Seychelles in the form of the University of Seychelles still can be considered in its infancy. With the new fibre optic cable, new online correspondence courses could become more of a reality; this exciting possibility could see the rise of the education level of the average Seychellois. A facet, which as of today is lacking, has resulted in a vacuum in the employment market for skilled local labour.

Tourism is Seychelles’ biggest service industry,which relies on the internet as a means to gauge with its clients. An advancement in telecommunications services promises to provide more comprehensible travel options and arrangements, improving the service industry and further promoting Seychelles as a ‘must visit’ tourist destination.

More national debt, social consequences

While several benefits of the fibre optic cable are evident, a number of concerns have been raised both economically and socially. The cost of the entire project has been placed at around 27 million Euros. The Seychelles government has decided to finance the project through 40 percent equity and 60 percent debt. Two separate loans will be taken, the first an 8 million Euro loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the second a US $12 million loan from the African Development Bank (ADB). However, this could be seen as a questionable move. The recent bailout by the IMF in Seychelles due to national debt and poor credit still lingers fresh in the minds of Seychellois. Ironically, without the seed grant money from the EIB the ICT would not have taken agreed to invest in this project to begin with. This makes it apparent that the choice to take out a loan is a necessary evil as part of a long-term strategy.

Future social ills such as internet addiction, cyber-crime or a further diluting of the Seychelles culture by western ideology have been whispered among critics, but remain ignored. Unfortunately, these ills eclipse the opportunities that this new cable will be able to provide. The typical Seychellois will now have unrestricted access to a wealth of knowledge for either professional or leisure use. However, only the future will tell if our dreams of lightning fast movie streaming, crystal clear and uninterrupted Skype calls, and online gaming will be fulfilled.

Analysis between the benefits and consequences makes one thing clear: this cable is not the magic cure that will solve all the country’s problems. In reality a reduction in Internet costs for consumers will probably not be seen until shareholders in the project recoup their investment and begin making a profit – and who knows how long that will be. However, this project is one with vision. The investment made by the private and public sector makes it apparent that this choice has been made with not only an interest in making profit but with long term considerations made for the good of the country and the welfare of the people in mind.

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