Internet Exchange Points 5 September 2013

Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum Day Two

By Michuki MwangiDistinguished Technologist, Internet Growth

Theme: Role of Public-Private Partnerships in Promoting National and Regional Interconnection

The Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum kicked off the non-technical segment of the meeting with a focus on increasing cooperation between public and private sector to achieve regional interconnectivity.

Day two focused on the role of public and private sector in achieving regional interconnectivity.  Lack of political will and policy bottlenecks have been blamed for failure to interconnect and presentations dealt with practical examples that have worked or not worked.

The opening remarks were delivered by Abdelkader Amara, Minister, Ministry of Industry, Trade and New Technologies in Morocco and he underscored the government’s commitment in ensuring technology innovation and development.

Sofie Maddens, Senior Director Global Services at Internet Society delivered a speech looking at the major strides that AfPIF had made, from 60 participants at the inaugural meeting in 2010 to more than 200 attending the meeting last year.

The presentation had the necessary balance of ambition and reality; the Internet Society’s vision is that by 2020, Africa’s content will have grown to the extent that 80 percent of the content will be exchanged within the continent while only 20 percent of the content will be international. Maddens acknowledged that 80 percent was ambitious but noted that the conversations at AfPIF prove that Africa will be at a different level in seven years.

Maddens underscored the need to build communities and continue with training the technical community to set up and maintain networks, improve on the bottom-up approach that involves stakeholders, and develop more content for access by the 167 million Africans who are online. She noted that infrastructure investments had enables more people to come online but there was still need to push connectivity to cover a larger part of the billion people in Africa.

Maddens noted that there is notable Internet infrastructure growth disparities between countries in the same region. Currently more than 60 percent of African countries lack Internet exchange points that promote both national and cross-border interconnection.

In his keynote speech, Moez Chakchouk from Tunisia explored whether policy was the missing link in interconnection. Tunisia’s IXP was set up initially in 1996 under government control. After several years of censorship and blockage of certain websites, the country’s ICT infrastructure is now free after political revolution.

Tunisia and Egypt are the only countries in North Africa with functional IXPs and discussions are in high gear to set up an IXP in Morocco. Chakchouk said that even though there are 17 fiber optic cables connecting the region, there is only one interconnection; between Tunisia and Algeria. Morocco has a cable running to the Algerian border but it is yet to carry capacity. The closest IXP for North African countries is in Marseille where they peer.

In discussing how to solve the interconnection issues, regulators participating in the discussions maintained that there is need to strike a delicate balance between market openness and regulations that protect markets and investments. Haitham El-Nakhal presented on the efforts by the Egyptian National Telecoms Regulatory Authority to ensure interconnectivity.  The session had candid discussions between the operators and regulators.

Since 2010, when AfPIF held its first meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, the debate was on the challenges posed by lack of infrastructure, political will and investments. Some of the challenges have been tackled but some of the obstacles still linger.

Mike Jensen, who has done extensive research on ICT landscape in Africa, set out some of the lingering challenges and offered possible solutions

1.     Reduce the dominance of incumbent players in some of the countries and end discrimination for new entrants

2.     Increase passive infrastructure sharing or make it mandatory for fiber optic players to share infrastructure instead of each player digging their own fiber optic cable infrastructure.

3.     Reduce difficulty in obtaining right of way, especially in cross border networks

4.     Increase public-private funding mechanisms to accelerate investment pace

5.     Improve spectrum management to promote uptake at consumer level

6.     Invest in and promote use of e-government services

7.     Reduce taxes levied towards ICT services and equipment

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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