The World Bank has given an update on the expected timetable for the Republic of Benin to be connected to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) high speed international submarine cable, which is currently in its second-phase rollout of connectivity to additional countries on Africa’s Atlantic coast. The Bank stated that a technical team from Alcatel-Lucent – the consortium cable’s main technology partner – deployed equipment in the transmission room of the Cotonou (Benin) cable landing station in late-December 2014, while the cable laying ship is scheduled to reach Cotonou on 24 February 2015, and Benin will be connected to ACE on 3 March 2015, quoting Alcatel-Lucent projections. In parallel, the architecture of the system allowing the switching and routing of international traffic between ACE and Benin’s sole existing submarine cable link (to the SAT-3/WASC system), is currently being designed by an international consultant financed by the project, the World Bank’s report disclosed. Moreover, building works to house a new Beninese internet exchange point (IXP) ‘should be completed in January 2015,’ although noting that ‘the crossing of the site by the power line feeding the landing station is nevertheless a major obstacle that could delay the works. The Bank and project teams are monitoring this issue and working with the utility company to avoid any further delays.’
Benin’s involvement in the ACE consortium (led by France’s Orange) is being managed via a local special purpose vehicle (SPV) named Benin ACE GIE, a joint venture which includes local mobile operators and internet service providers (ISPs). The World Bank’s latest report says that the operating team at Benin ACE GIE now has three appointed permanent staff and eight cable landing station technicians. It adds that the draft licence for operating access to the ACE cable via Benin ACE GIE is currently under review within the various legal departments of the SPV members, as questions have been raised about legal status: the current legal framework for the SPV remains ‘vague’, and this status may be ‘difficult to reconcile with the conditions for open and non-discriminatory access [to ACE cable bandwidth], as capacity allocation to new entrants could pose problems.’ The report continued that once the cable is operational, the legal issues will be further examined to identify the ‘most adequate legal status for the SPV’. Referencing the relatively recent launch of ACE connectivity in another western African country, Guinea, the World Bank added that: ‘In order to build on the Guinean experience, the project team will travel to Conakry in the second quarter of 2015 to meet and exchange with their Guinean counterparts.’
The latest timetable was given in a report dated 25 December 2014 as part of an assessment of World Bank-supported project ‘WARCIP 1-C’ which aims to help increase the geographical reach of broadband networks and to reduce the costs of communications services in Benin.