Russell Southwood
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Bandwidth as the digital economy’s fuel
Getting sub-Saharan Africa connected (1991–2015)
in Africa 2.0
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Bandwidth is the petrol of the digital economy, and before the international cables were built it was supplied to sub-Saharan Africa largely through satellite services: quality was often poor and the costs were high. Sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest capacity in the world for international internet bandwidth. Without effective internet, there were few incentives to develop local African content.

This chapter looks at how sub-Saharan Africa got connected to the internet, the birth of independent African internet service providers and their fight to open up competitive international access. The first fruits of that struggle for users were cyber-cafes, which were new spaces to access virtual worlds. The last part of the chapter describes how the monopoly of international bandwidth supply – which kept internet prices high – was broken by a succession of new cables and fibre networks with innovative governance and finance structures.

It was a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. No market for internet meant no finance for data networks. Without the latter, there would never be a larger market for internet. In these early years, the number of sub-Saharan African internet users was tiny. It had grown only slowly from 0.2 million in 1998 to 3.2 million in 2002.

This chapter explores how providing bandwidth at an affordable price in sub-Saharan Africa was far more complicated than building mobile voice networks.

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Africa 2.0

Inside a continent’s communications revolution


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