European Investment Bank unveils fibre plan for 2.5m Africans
As efforts to close the gap on digital divide in Africa accelerate, European Investment Bank (EIB) has unveiled a bold plan to connect more than two million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) expediting the continent’s digitalisation.
The EIB announced on Saturday it is partnering with wholesale telecom infrastructure provider, Bandwidth and Cloud Services (BCS), to roll out new infrastructure in the DRC, and enable high-speed internet coverage.
BCS specialises in fibre-optic connectivity, providing connectivity solutions, reaching more than 80 million end-users, with a network coverage spanning over 12 500 km.
With the DRC project, BCS is expecting to link more than 2.5 million people to the internet, providing them with ‘affordable and more reliable’ digital connectivity
The deployment will also benefit 319 schools and 70 hospitals, which EIB and BCS say is a contribution to DRC’s National Plan for digitalisation.
The EIB and BCS project comes on the back of growing calls to make internet connectivity affordable on the continent.
Africans pay more for connectivity
A study released last year by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) revealed Africans paid more than three times the global median price for mobile broadband services, and over five times the global median for fixed broadband in 2021.
“Broadband services have ceased to be a mere luxury," said then ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao. “They are a necessity for communication, teleworking, online education and other essential services. Still, we must urgently address the issue of affordability if we hope to achieve our goal of universal and meaningful connectivity."
In the case of the DRC project, EIB’s investment will enable the construction of 1 200 kilometres of fibre, part of the 20 000 kilometres that BCS plans to build in Southern, Central and Eastern Africa over the next three years.
The project is being rolled out under the EIB’s Global Gateway programme, which offers partner countries sustainable connections, and new fibre-optic infrastructure to enable high-speed broadband internet in homes, schools and hospitals.
On Saturday 4 March, the EIB and BCS signed a warrant agreement at the Kinshasa Economic Forum, which will allow the telecoms infrastructure provider to install a new fibre-optic backbone in the eastern regions of the DRC.
The warrant agreement follows a $10 million quasi-equity investment from EIB Global, the EIB’s arm dedicated to international partnerships and development finance.
The financing package addresses BCS’s immediate funding needs to support the company’s long-term growth.
“This is an important milestone in our mission to provide fast, high-quality and affordable digital connectivity in underserved areas in DRC and across Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. Our continued partnership with the EIB means we can move forward with our optic expansion plans to build over 20 000 kilometres of digital infrastructure, out of which 12 000 kilometres are in DRC,” said Yonas Maru, founder and managing director of BCS Group.
“This will go a long way to ensure implementation of the memorandum of understanding between the government of DRC and BCS to connect over 1 900 schools, 1 640 public hospitals and government institutions along the BCS backbone and metro fibre infrastructure.
“The government of DRC has in return agreed to waive the fibre licence fee per kilometre and provide rights of way on all public infrastructure – railroad, electricity poles, rivers and lakes – in exchange.”
Thomas Östros, EIB vice-president, commented: “We are very pleased to take this step forward with BCS, as part of the European Investment Bank’s commitment to accelerating digitalisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and across Africa.
“Digital is such a powerful driver of equity, inclusion and growth, that the EU has made it a pillar of our Global Gateway strategy.
“Expansion of the fibre-optic infrastructure will enable local communities, schools and hospitals to benefit from mobile broadband, which ultimately means new opportunities for learning, for business, for jobs, for healthcare.”