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World Bank to Invest $215 Million to Boost Internet in Africa

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The World Bank has announced a 10 year USD215 million fund to support the countries of the Central African region in developing their high speed telecommunications backbone infrastructure to increase the availability of high speed Internet and reduce end user prices.

Three countries - Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) - are participating in the initial USD26.2 million phase of the Program. A further eight countries are also eligible to participate in the Program - Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, São Tomé and Principe, and Sudan.

The Central African Backbone (CAB) Program is being supported through a partnership between the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank (AfDB). The program also aims to leverage an additional USD98 million from the private sector.

Development Impact

The CAB Program brings much needed connectivity to Central Africa. Until now, people in Central Africa have the lowest quality and highest cost Internet and telephone services in Africa. The population pays up to two times more in monthly Internet rates than people living in other African countries, and up to three times more than those living in other parts of the world. "The CAB Program is very important for the countries involved and lies at the heart of their development strategies. It will assist countries to strengthen their enabling environment, create competition and, ultimately increase access and lower the costs for end users," said Mary Barton-Dock, World Bank Country Director for Cameroon, Chad and Central African Republic.

In its recent Information and Communications for Development 2009: Extending Reach and Increasing Impact, the World Bank found that for every 10 percentage-point increase in high speed Internet connections there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points. The report also identifies the mobile platform as the single most powerful way to reach and deliver public and private services to hundreds of millions of people in remote and rural areas across the developing world.

"Ultimately, our goal is to develop regional and national broadband backbones and significantly reduce the cost of ICT services in Central Africa. Through better and affordable connectivity, the aim is to leverage the transformational powers of ICTs to support economic growth, SME development, employment creation, productivity gains and trade integration in the region," says Mohsen Khalil, Director of Global Information and Communications Technologies at the World Bank Group.

Modernizing the ICT Sector

In addition to infrastructure development, the CAB Program will strengthen the capacity of public institutions such as the sectoral ministries and regulatory authorities and will promote a competition-friendly environment by liberalizing the sector and restructuring telecommunications operators.

"This program is a great example of the World Bank's increasing emphasis on regional infrastructure as part of Africa's development," said Rick Scobey, Acting Director for Regional Integration in Africa at the World Bank.

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