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The Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) is promoting the establishment of a regional telecommunications network for the region. The network, Comtel, is meant to facilitate increased trade relations within the region.

The project is the outcome of a study on telecoms network inter-connectivity and tariff harmonisation, carried out by Telia Swedtel on behalf of Comesa, with financing from the African Development Bank.

The project cost is estimated at Sh18.4bn (US$240mn).

According to a Comesa report detailing its development projects and programmes, Comtel will require a private telecoms network linking national information and communication technology operators in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.

It will be built on the existing infrastructure where available, but in most cases, new transmission routes, employing a mix of fibre-optic cable and digital microwave infrastructure.

Comtel will provide a high quality carrier system for regional traffic, and the report says users will be charged at competitive rates.

“Leased circuit facilities will also be available on regional and national basis for the national telecommunications/ICT operators. This will increase access to telecommunications/ICT services for rural population,” the report notes.

The Comtel project traverses the following countries; Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, DR Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In many countries of the Comesa region, levels of capital investment are inadequate to match with the improvement in the required telecoms infrastructure. Many existing telecoms operators are unable to raise the huge amount of capital required to upgrade their networks within a reasonable time frame.

The existing telecoms infrastructure is, in most places, inherent with many shortcomings. As the traditional methods of funding telecoms infrastructure from the multilateral institutions is no longer applicable, other sources of financing this prime sector are being encouraged.

One of which is through joint venture operations involving shared capital with the private sector. With the process of adopting investor friendly telecoms policies, private sector investment is being seen as a means to improve the performance of the sector in availability, quality and price of services provided to customers.

The network will also provide more reliable and cost effective ICT service connectivity among users within the sub-region. It is expected that the implementation of the proposed network will lead to lower telecoms/ICT tariffs in the region.

Comtel’s vision is to increase regional telephone connections, and was developed during the first quarter of 1998.

A meeting of national telecoms operators recommended that Comtel be a private company with their participation and that of other private investors.