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Unbundle SALCAB if it will give us improved internet access at reduced cost!
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Unbundle SALCAB if it will give us improved internet access at reduced cost!

Social Media is awash with stories on the unbundling of the Sierra Leone Cable Network (SALCAB). The generated public interest is understandable given concerns about still limited access to internet and the high charges. While it is so pleasurable to access the benefits of the internet, understanding the intricacies and technicalities that make access possible can be quite challenging. To the ordinary Sierra Leonean, the issue of unbundling SALCAB can only mean one thing: Improved access and quality at affordable cost!!  If unbundling SALCAB will guarantee it, so be it!

Why was SALCAB created? The Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB) was created by the Government as part of the requirement for Sierra Leone to participate in the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) Consortium that landed the undersea Submarine Fibre Optic Cable.  The primary objective was to drive broadband penetration, promote affordability of broadband internet services in the country, and  improve on the voice and broadband penetration in underserved communities. This has been driven by the desire of the Government to meet the popular aspiration of increasing broadband penetration and enhancing the digital economy as an important part of national development.

SALCAB has two components, both of which were financed with loans. The ACE submarine cable was paid for with a World Bank loan. The terrestrial backbone was also paid for with loans from the Islamic Development Bank and China EXIM Bank. The total loan investment by the Government has been in excess of USD 80 Million dollars. Government has an obligation to service these loans. The privileged minority (13% of Sierra Leoneans) who have access to internet will attest to the fact that services are expensive.  At current charges, this invaluable resource will fail to provide us with our catalyst for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). Even when internet connect is available, service reliability and quality can be a nightmare.  Literally stated, while SALCAB is not offering the promised access and quality, the poor taxpayer is still burdened to bear the cost of servicing the loans. Surely, this is neither equitable nor sustainable.

During public consultations on the Medium-Term Development plan, many voiced concerns about the need for improved Information, Communications and Technology as a catalyst to achieving the overall national development. Cluster 3.5 of the plan (under policy outcomes) aims to improve ICT services for increase access and affordable cost to ensure integration into all development initiatives, innovation and entrepreneurship. It envisages Sierra Leone as a digital economy. The Ministry of Information and Communications has the supervisory authority to ensure that the people's will is carried out fully in the matter of improved, affordable internet services.

The Ministry has received a cabinet conclusion to reform the SALCAB and position it to drive this mandate. The Ministry has set itself the strategic objective using SALCAB to increase mobile broadband internet penetration to 60% and fixed wireless access to 20% over the next three years, and reducing mobile data and fixed wireless internet costs to below the median in comparison to other countries in the sub region. Towards achieving this objective, the Ministry has taken a dispassionate step to inject performance efficiency into SALCAB and make it a self-sustaining establishment.  This involves two major reforms in the structure and operations of SALCAB. Firstly, unbundling the two major services provided by SALCAB and separating the operations of the ACE submarine cable from the operations of the terrestrial backbone. This unbundling will lead to increased and improved connectivity in the country as mobile phone operators will be able to access this relatively cheaper option than continue to rely on satellite links that run through towers. Secondly, bringing in private sector players in a public-private partnership in downstream activities that still secures SALCAB as a wholly Government entity.

The Government through the Ministry is giving the assurance that the process of unbundling SALCAB and promoting private sector participation will address the indebtedness that sits on the heads of each Sierra Leonean because of the SALCAB loans and promote greater internet penetration and uptake. Your authoritative Sierra News stands with the Government and the Ministry in its move to achieve this objective.

Lonta ka da Bai! For love of Mama Salone

Yours sincerely

Yeama Sarah Thompson

Editor-in-Chief

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