Internet, Under-water cables, and Infrastructure


By: Anna Greenstone

Alternative news sources have been following developments of the EASSy cable, damage and repairs over the last few weeks.  The under-water fibre-optic cables, owned by the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), a conglomerate investment of 14 major telecom companies in Africa was laid in 2009.  The recent damage to it has affected more than six countries in the Eastern and Southern regions of the continent.  The cable connects countries along the East African coast to as far as the United Arab Emirates.  In February, a ship dragging its anchor along the bottom of the ocean, off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya snagged part of the cable, causing limited internet access for users across several nations.  All Things Considered, interviewed East African correspondent, Solomon Moore on 3/1/2012 sharing some of these developments with a broader audience.  Moore explained that while Africa is less “wired” than other regions of the world, as new businesses sprout up, episodes like these cause an unfortunate delay and inconvenience., covered a story more recently, on 3/27/12 which focused on persisting internet problems in Zimbabwe.    “Experts say Zimbabwe was hardest hit by the accident”, affecting internet speeds, and mobile phone users’ ability to add credit to their lines

How is Education wired in?

While much of the media following the fibre optic cable damage has focused on the burden to commerce and business, a sector becoming more and more reliant on tele-communications has been left out  of the headlines.  Schools around the world are increasing the use of internet and technologies for learning.   While ICTs play an important role in enhancing our experience of work, school, and communication, as we become more dependent on them, if damaged, it will have more detrimental, deeply felt affect.

It is important for investors and educators alike to be strategic in finding sustainable ways to use ICTs in schools, particularly in countries with inconsistent infrastructure, or governance in place.   Samsung Africa launched a pilot program last year in South Africa, with the goal of setting up solar powered computer schools. covered the project, and quoted a Samsung business leader in East Africa who spoke of plans to replicate the project in other places, Kenya being the next targeted country.  The fact that these computer labs are powered by solar shows foresight by investors and designers, to not only consider more environmentally friendly ways of using technology in the classroom, but to be cognizant of the reality that electricity remains unreliable and inconsistent for much of this region.

While the damaged under-water EASSy cable certainly does not signify failure of ICTs in business or education, it presents a challenge to create more sustainable access to broadband, in addition to hardware and electricity.  What can countries do to limit cable damage?  Is stronger sea commerce regulation needed? Is the damage an expected risk for the fibre-optic cable industry?  If so, what quality control, or quicker response operations could be instituted so users are not inconvenienced for such long periods of repair?

Foresight and design become more crucial as ICTs and internet play more integral roles in classrooms, businesses and homes.


BizTechAfrica 10/26/2011 “Samsung Africa launches solar-powered interned schools”

IT News Africa  2/28/2012  “Two East African undersea internet cables cut”  3/27/2012   “Zimbabwe Internet Problems Persist”

NPR  3/1/2012 “Damaged Ocean Cable Cripples Interned in East Africa:


Posted on April 10, 2012, in Lessons from Failures and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Awesome post and really thanks for your all work you have done 🙂

  2. Mitsuyuki– what interesting comparison! Thank you for sharing. I like your comment because your example is from more than a century ago and yet it still shows ways that globalization was occurring. While farmers were deeply affected by the functioning of the railroad, the railroads themselves were built largely by Chinese immigrants. Our global economy is much older than many people think. And dependence on infrastructure, as you pointed out is foundational to economic and technological advancement.

  3. Mitsuyuki Enomoto

    This article reminds me of the monopoly of the railroad. The wheat growers in California in 1900s relied heavily on the railroad selling their products. If the line had been damaged, or the company had raised its tariff, it would have been “more detrimental, deeply felt affect” for the farmers. It has the like analogy to the ICTs. This article reveals that our information communications technology actually depends on the comparatively monopolistic infrastructure, like an under-water fibre-optic cable. Once the line has been damaged as you mentioned, its effect will be huge and international. Moreover, there seems to be no media in which the policies of the operating company of the communicating infrastructure have more impact upon our daily life than ICTs. Unlike conventional ways of communication, ICTs afford various possibilities of unlimited access to the world, however, to ensure that we can truly enjoy the benefits of world wide web, it is the competitive markets for the communicating infrastructure that counts.

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  2. Pingback: ICT4D Failures and how we learned from them « ICTs for Bottom of the Pyramid

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