Sierra Leone internet access is currently slow and expensive

Sierra Leone gets first fibre optic connection to internet

Sierra Leone will get its first fibre optic connection to the outside world with the Africa Coast to Europe  submarine cable.

The country is still part of a small group of countries completely reliant on  highly expensive satellite bandwidth for internet connections.

"The vessel that carries the fibre optic cable is currently within the shores of Sierra Leone," Sierra Leone's Ministry of Information said in a statement.

It added the vessel would dock and lay the cable later this week at a landing station by Lumley Beach in capital Freetown.

When complete, the 17,000-km ACE cable will run from France to South Africa, connecting 23 countries.

The cable was launched by France Telecom as part of a consortium with telecom operators in participating countries.

Sierra Leone, along with neighbouring Liberia, missed out on previous fibre optic cables laid down the West African coast, such as SAT-3.

"At that time we had a civil war, we didn't have the opportunity to articulate the arrangement to have a landing station here," said Senesie Kallon, deputy director general of Sierra Leone's National Telecommunications Commission.

Internet access in Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, is currently slow or expensive, and often both.

According to the National Telecommunications Commission, the country as a whole has just 155 megabits of bandwidth, less than would serve a small American or European town.

The World Bank estimates that bandwidth in Sierra Leone costs 10 times the level in East Africa and 25 times the U.S. price.

Barely one per cent of the 5.4 million population have access to internet services, and numerous studies have identified cheap and fast internet as a factor that can boost a country's economic growth.

The World Bank is providing $30 million to fund the connection of Sierra Leone to the cable offshore.

"There was an opportunity to connect Sierra Leone to ACE in 2011 and if the country were to miss that it wasn't clear there'd be further opportunities," said Vijay Pillai, the bank's country manager in Freetown.

The International Telecommunication Union said in August that nine African countries remain wholly dependent on satellite internet.

The Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Guinea, Liberia, São Tomé and Príncipe and the Seychelles also lack fibre optic connections to the wider world.

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