East African countries have reached an agreement to combine resources and establish a jointly-run satellite that will provide internet services throughout the region. The decision was made during the Joint Ministerial meeting of the ICT Infrastructure Development cluster under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIPs). The meeting took place on November 9th in Nairobi, Kenya.
The participating Ministers agreed to expedite the process of establishing a Regional Owned Satellite that will offer high-quality broadband internet services and broadcasting capabilities. The move comes as internet data consumption in East Africa continues to rise, attributed to factors such as a growing middle class, increased availability of affordable smartphones, and the expansion of 4G networks. Mobile data remains the most popular form of internet connectivity in the region, with social media, video streaming, and mobile money services being the primary uses of data.
However, the high cost of data is still a challenge for many users in the region. In 2022, the average cost of one gigabyte of mobile internet in East Africa was estimated at 1.34 USD, slightly higher than other regions. By comparison, Northern Africa had a significantly lower average cost of 1.05 USD for mobile data.
The cost of establishing a satellite is approximately 300 million USD, which individual countries may find financially burdensome. By collaborating on a regional level, the cost of the satellite becomes more feasible. Additionally, the Ministers emphasized the importance of affordable smart devices to accompany digital skilling and ICT infrastructure development.
In addition to the satellite initiative, the Ministers also discussed policy interventions to promote device affordability, as well as the establishment of an East African Single Digital Market to optimize technological efficiency within Partner States. The aim is to support start-ups, facilitate joint access to capital financing, encourage research co-financing, and harmonize digital infrastructure standards.
Furthermore, the implementation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cybersecurity was given priority to address emerging cyber threats. The Ministers stressed the need for harmonized policies on data storage and management, while also welcoming progress on cross-border broadband interconnectivity that enhances connectivity for landlocked countries through undersea cables.
The East African region, with a population of approximately 174 million people, offers potential for collaboration with international tech companies. The region is already implementing e-services, including data-sharing frameworks, full integration of mobile financial services, and cross-border access to secure and reliable information. However, the Ministers highlighted the importance of accelerating the implementation of these initiatives.