The Internet is a fundamental driver of social development and economic growth around the world, and an essential tool for promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, scientific advancement, education, and many other objectives central to the themes of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) second Committee on Development Information Science and Technology meeting (CODIST-II).
Research has also demonstrated a positive link between broadband leadership and innovation economies and between growth in ICT infrastructures and regional and international trade.
As such, achieving the African vision of innovative, industrialized, and knowledge-driven economic development will require the implementation of ubiquitous, reliable, cost-effective Internet infrastructure on the continent. It will be essential for Africa to not only grow cost-effective Internet connectivity at the national level, but also grow connectivity between countries, and between African and the rest of the world.
While there have been many exciting developments in the Internet landscape in Africa in recent years, challenges still remain in achieving efficient Internet interconnection and data traffic exchange across the continent.
To advance discussion of the issues, the 2 May 2011 UNECA CODIST-II workshop, “Legal and Regulatory Aspects of Interconnection,” aimed to:
- Highlight the linkages between African Internet interconnection and traffic exchange to innovation and industrialization, and
- Explore challenges and opportunities in achieving a supportive legal and regulatory enabling environment for African Internet interconnectivity.
The workshop was highly successful and benefited from a robust discussion amongst the presenters and attendees. At the CODIST-II plenary session, UNECA Member States adopted eight recommendations that were fostered through discussions at the workshop.
Account of Workshop Proceedings
Session 1: “Linking African Internet interconnection and traffic exchange to innovation and industrialization”
Dr. Nii Quaynor - Chairman of Governing Board of Ghana’s National IT Agency (NITA) and Convener of the African Network
Operators’ Group (AfNOG)
Mr. Michuki Mwangi – Senior Manager for African Development, African Regional Bureau, Internet Society
Dr. Edmund Katiti - Acting Head, NEPAD e-Africa Programme
Dr. Joseph Siror - Deputy Head of ICT Department, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA)
Mr. Pierre Dandjinou - CEO, Strategic Consulting Group (Benin, Senegal)
Mr. Michuki Mwangi highlighted the linkages between African economic growth and ICTs by presenting data that indicated a strong correlation between African countries that rank highest in economic trade and highest in ICT adoption. He also noted that two of Africa’s top economic growth countries, South Africa and Kenya, also have highly advanced and well managed Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which are facilitating and experience patterns of continued growth in Internet traffic exchange.
He demonstrated the cost benefits of achieving a well-functioning IXP by presenting data from the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP). The data indicated that network operators in Kenya were currently saving an aggregate USD $142,000 per month by exchanging local Internet traffic at the KIXP. Mr. Mwnagi also indicated that efficient and cost-effective traffic exchange is essential for the development of African content and knowledge industries.
However, despite the visible benefits and growing demand for more efficient and lower communication costs, he noted that most intra-Africa data traffic continues to be exchange internationally, mostly in Europe, Asia and America.
He indicated that there are currently 24 IXP in Africa operating in 19 countries, leaving 65% of African countries without an IXP. Furthermore, he noted that many of the 24 IXPs in Africa have yet to advance from nascent stages of technical and operation maturity, which is limiting their potential benefits to African interconnection and traffic exchange.
Mr. Mwangi indicated, however, that many of the solutions to improving the African interconnection and traffic exchange landscape, especially at the technical level, were relatively easy to achieve through skills development and capacity building. He noted, for example, that within six months after the inaugural African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) meeting, Kenya experienced a 78% increase in non-Kenyan networks appearing at KIXP, which is already helping to improve connectivity in the region.
He concluded by noting that infrastructure, content creation, service provision and an enabling policy environment lie at the intersection of improving African Internet interconnection, innovation, and industrialization. He underscored that capacity building and leveraging interests between private sector, academia, and governments will be fundamental to improving the African Internet interconnection landscape and promoting innovation and industrialization in the region.
Dr. Edmund Katiti said the key to advancing innovation, research, and academic achievement is promoting collaboration and facilitating access to knowledge. He noted that National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) have come about as a response to the need of education and research communities in various countries to access affordable, high-bandwidth Internet services and computing resources for teaching, learning, and research.
Dr. Katiti explained that NRENs are specialized Internet networks that focus on connecting universities and research institutions and often provide unique or advanced Internet technologies and services required for academic and industrial research that may not be available from commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs). He said that they usually operated and managed on a non- profit amongst its members and benefit from collective bargaining power.
He also said that NRENs can play a key role in advancing the Internet interconnection and traffic exchange environment in a country. For example, he said that both NRENs and commercial ISPs benefit when NRENs are connected to Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). Furthermore, he noted that NRENs should be involved in the setting up and managing of the IXP, as the NREN will often have the skills to contribute to such an exercise.
Dr. Katiti said that as more local content is developed in Africa, including by university students, more Internet traffic will be exchanged at African IXP and this will significantly reduce the reliance on international bandwidth for local traffic exchange.
He concluded by indicating that governments should support the development of NRENs to advance innovation, research, and academic achievement and encourage NRENs to connect to and participate in IXPs.
Dr. Joseph Siror illustrated the relevance of Internet interconnection and traffic exchange issues to e-government by presenting a case study of the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA). He indicated that the KRA had been faced with many challenges in collecting revenues and providing public services, and recognized very early on the importance of e-services and automation in dealing with them.
In the early days, however, he said that connectivity solutions were unreliable, quite slow, expensive and inaccessible to a large portion of the population.
Part of the slowness, unreliability, and high-cost for Internet connectivity solutions emanated from data interconnection being undertaken overseas, while the data or service being accessed was just next door.
He explained that the KRA’s decision to connect to the Kenyan Internet Exchange Point (KIXP) and the arrival of submarine fibre optic cables drastically improved the situation. This enabled the government to quickly automate using Internet-based applications where taxpayers could interact and process their transactions from any location and at any time.
In addition, he said that the low latencies, improved quality of service, and greater reliability fostered by improved local and international interconnectivity helped the KRA innovate new and advanced services, such RFID-based import/export tracking, and helped spur innovation and competition in the commercial sector, including M-PESA.
He also noted that because IXPs facilitate local Internet traffic exchange, they help ensure the continuity of critical e-government services in the event undersea cable outages and other disruptions in international connectivity.
Dr. Siror explained that as a result of the improved situation, automation within the KRA has grown exponentially within the last five years and has resulted in substantial increases in Kenyan tax and revenue collection. He also said that the increase in convenient and reliable e-government services has encouraged more people in Kenya to subscribe to the Internet.
Mr. Pierre Dandjinou noted that physical capital accumulation, human capital accumulation, and the rate of innovation and technical progress are three pillars for a sustainable growth and development. He observed that Internet industry is showing a mushrooming of initiatives that apply information and communication technologies for economic growth generation and help transform people's lives.
He said that that there has been a steady development of the physical capital in the field of ICT, with the on going laying of submarine cables and specific in country and regional fiber optic backbones. He noted that total Internet access capacity of Africa has drastically grown in the last five years and more National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) are being organized on the continent. He also noted that the uptake of the mobile telephony has placed the private sector in a key position to foster innovation and growth.
Mr. Dandjinou identified data mining, mobile and Internet software and application development, e-agriculture, e-banking, and e-government service development as ripe opportunities for African innovation, including for small and medium sized businesses.
He stated that the need to and benefits of growing African interconnection to improve market opportunities are very strong, however, more needs to be done to explain the business case to government and the private sector.
Furthermore, a more supportive enabling environment is required and he recommended a multi-stakeholder approach in developing related policies and regulations.
Mr. Danjinou stated that African Internet operators needed to better understand Internet traffic exchange techniques and move towards implementing traffic peering agreements. Further, he recommended that governments should promote R&D networks, link universities to the private sector and provide incentives for innovators as part of their national strategies.
Session 2: “Legal and Regulatory Frameworks for Interconnection”
Dr. Dawit Bekele – African Regional Bureau Manager – Internet Society
Presenters: Mr. Muriuki Mureithi - ICT Consultant and CEO, Summit Strategies Ltd. (Kenya)
Mr. Mike Jensen – ICT Consultant (South Africa)
Mr. Muriuki Mureithi provided an overview of legal and regulatory issues related to African cross-border interconnection. He noted that while the arrival submarine cables have significantly increased African bandwidth capacity, challenges remain in extending capacity beyond the coast. He explained that the key issue is increasing cross-border network interconnection between countries, including landlocked nations, as well as extending capacity to rural areas.
He noted that African governments have worked towards addressing the issues and have promulgated a number of frameworks and initiatives to harmonise cross-border policy and regulatory regimes, yet implementation has remained elusive in many cases.
Mr. Mureithi suggested number of contextual issues that effect the African cross-border interconnection environment, including:
Political Issues – Political relationships, which range from cordial to conflict, determine the overall opportunity for forging cross-border arrangements.
Regulatory Frameworks – Regulatory frameworks provide the environment to expand ICTs and greater regional harmonization can enhance the economies of scale that will provide incentives for building of cross-border networks.
Business Case – Even if the regulatory framework is supportive, cross-border interconnection needs to be commercially viable.
Technical Solutions – Technology choices determine the efficiency, reliability, and effectiveness of physical interconnections and regulatory choices that favour specific technical implementations limit options.
Mr. Mureithi outlined a number of recommendations for advancing the African enabling environment for cross-border interconnection. At the continental level, he encouraged regional coordinating bodies to strengthen and provide funding for regional regulatory harmonisation initiatives and to support capacity building and information exchange. He encouraged African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to develop regional licensing frameworks that facilitate cross-border licensing of operators and to promote regional ICT infrastructure planning that seeks to achieve multiple and diverse cross- border network interconnections between countries.
He also noted a need for greater co-ordination amongst all agencies, as there was considerable overlap between existing initiatives.
Mr. Mureithi also encouraged countries to facilitate landlocked country access
to submarine cables and to synchronise national network planning and regulatory frameworks with their neighbours.
Mr. Mike Jensen noted that countries in Africa have adopted varying levels of policies and regulations to promote national infrastructure and access to ICT.
A number of key focal points have been the establishment of national regulators, market liberalisation and the introduction of competition, infrastructure development projects, Universal Access/Service policies, and spectrum management.
While these policies have largely succeeded in the development of voice services, he noted that they have achieved limited success in broadband development and Internet usage. He suggested that the main reason for limited progress is a lack of competitive local ICT markets.
He indicated that the main causes for the lack of competition include continued dominance by incumbents, a lack of or poor interconnection opportunities (including limited IXPs), insufficient access to competitive international bandwidth (including monopolies on international gateways and landing stations), a lack of harmonization in licensing regimes, limited local content and e-services, and insufficient use of alternative infrastructures, among other issues.
Mr. Jensen stated that there is a need for better strategies aimed at market liberalisation, and ones that are enforced. He indicated that clarity would encourage the private sector to invest in infrastructure development, including cross-border connectivity. He underscored that achieving this will require political will and leadership.
Moving forward, he recommended strengthening the role of African regional bodies, including the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), in policy development, regional harmonisation, information dissemination, and the publication of guidelines. He also suggested that strategies should be adopted to ensure adherence to African Union / REC policies on market liberalisation. He also noted that national backbones should be encouraged implement cross-border interconnection links.
As the private sector will invest in most of the necessary infrastructure under strong enabling environments, he noted that public funds could be focused on developing fibre links to remote and hard to serve areas. He also recommended using public private partnerships for synergising access to alternative infrastructures such as rail lines and electricity grids.
Further, he indicated a need for advancing research and data collection in the area to support policy development and decision-making.
Workshop Recommendations Adopted
At the CODIST-II plenary session, UNECA Member States adopted eight recommendations regarding African interconnection and traffic exchange issues that were fostered through discussions at the “Legal and Regulatory Aspects of Interconnection” workshop. Pending final editorial adjustments to the full meeting report by the UNECA Secretariat, the adopted text includes:
Member States should:
- Implement policy and regulatory frameworks that support and facilitate national and cross-border Internet interconnection and advance the harmonization of cross-border interconnection and licensing regimes at the regional level, including through the Regional Economic Communities.
- Support the development of Internet exchange points to facilitate efficient and cost-effective Internet traffic exchange and improve the business case for the development of local content industries.
- Advance the redundancy and reliability of national information infrastructures by diversifying international Internet connections and encouraging the participation of government networks, commercial ISPs, university networks, and other data carriers in Internet exchange points.
- Deepen the implementation of policy and regulatory approaches that encourage competition in the development of national and regional infrastructure, including through public-private partnerships.
- Promote awareness-creation with respect to the relationship between developing a richly interconnected Internet infrastructure on the continent and the Africa innovation, industrial, and knowledge economy agenda.
- Support the Regional Economic Communities in their efforts to put in place a harmonized framework for cyber legislation as well as to facilitate cross-border interconnection and regional licensing regimes.
- Collaborate with development partners on capacity building activities that assist stakeholders in implementing technical and policy approaches for improving the existing legal and regulatory frameworks for the knowledge economy as well as for setting up a conducive environment for national, regional, and international interconnection.
- Encourage and support initiatives that advance research, data collection, and information dissemination regarding African Internet interconnection issues.