This week, the Herald carried an interesting article on the national fibre backbone project. Carefully titled “Laying of fibre optic cable progresses well” the article disclosed that TelOne, the country’s only fixed telecom operator is digging a fibre cable trench to Mutare.
That a state operator is laying a fibre backbone connecting to high speed fibre points in neighboring countries is reassuring but the details are somewhat not so assuring.
A TelOne representative Hampton Mhlanga is quoted: “Our trenches are still 15 km out of Harare towards Mutare but the good news is that work has started”. That’s more than 250km to go! If that didn’t get you worried, the next statement probably will: “Mhlanga said TelOne was still waiting for equipment and cables” to be delivered by end of July and “expects to complete the whole process of laying by November 5”
It sure is progress, we just wouldn’t attached the word “well” to this kind of progress. Anyone familiar with such projects would not be too optimistic with that November target. So yes, we don’t feel so reassured anymore. Remember the ICT minister told us we’d be connected by March 2010.
Why we say a state operator doing the backbone work is reassuring is this: Like most of you we don’t feel safe when private companies hold keys to basic needs (some would say rights) like the Internet. We all witnessed the insensitive profiteering that took place last year when mobile operators took advantage of the shortage of sim cards on the market. A card that should not cost more than a dollar, in fact that costs just a dollar right now, was sold for around US $10.
Arguments about the need to recuperate from a decade of losses were thrown around at that time. But that slope is slippery one and line between recuperating and profiteering too thin so I for one didn’t buy any of it.
Of course issues of the capacity of the state operators come into play. A long discussion indeed. You can share your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.