The Mauritanian Minister of Economic Affairs and Development, Mr. Sidi Ould Tah, has just signed the WARCIP agreement (Mauritania Program for Regional Communications Infrastructure in West Africa), a program financed by the World Bank that aims to connect all regions of the country to high-speed Internet by 2015 (for more details:www.warcip.mr). This signature represents for me a new step toward achievement of this project on which I have been working for two years now.
Mauritania is developing a strategy to provide access for all its citizens to the information society by stimulating private investment in broadband Internet. Recognizing the importance of telecommunications and information and communication technologies (ICTs) for its future, the country launched an initial wave of reforms in the early 1990s involving the privatization of the operator Mauritel, the introduction of competition among mobile networks, and the creation of an independent Regulation Authority.
With a penetration rate of over 110 percent for mobile telephone services, growth has been truly remarkable considering the country’s demographic and economic characteristics. By comparison, the penetration rate of 3 percent for high-speed (or broadband) services remains far below that of the subregion. In addition, none of the Internet service providers (ISP) independent from the operators has succeeded in maintaining a presence on the Mauritanian market.
Yet, there is a strong correlation between the dissemination of broadband Internet in a country and growth, job creation, and improvement of living standards. Mauritania is now in the process of a second wave of reforms aimed at developing the high-speed Internet segment as a new source of growth in the sector and, more broadly, as a tool for diversifying its economy. The World Bank has supported the country in defining an overall strategy for 2012–2016 based on (i) developing access for all citizens to the information society; (ii) adapting the legal framework for ICTs; (iii) improving the quality and accessibility of public service; (iv) developing electronic administration; (v) developing the digital economy; and (vi) sectoral technological support.
The new legal framework was adapted promptly: a new Letter of Sectoral Policy in January 2013; a draft law on electronic communications approved by Parliament in July 2013; bodies of laws on the information society on the verge of being adopted by the Council of Ministers. This should provide all economic actors with the stability and transparency needed to finance investments to develop access for all to the information society.
Previous experiences in Africa (east, south) showed that the establishment of infrastructure linked to the improvement of policies and the regulatory framework had a significant and immediate impact on the market, with a rapid increase in the broadband penetration rate as soon as prices dropped (similar to the experience with mobile telephony). Mauritania will therefore deploy simultaneously and as quickly as possible the three broadband infrastructure components that will be necessary for it to achieve this objective:
International Mauritania Telecom (IMT), an economic interest group (EIG) comprising the Government and private actors, will manage international connectivity via the ACE (Africa Coast to Europe) sub-marine cable in Nouakchott. This open access to different operators or future ISPs represents an investment of US$25 million, with 65 percent financed by the private sector and the remainder by the Government through a loan from the European Investment Bank.
The national backbone to facilitate dissemination of broadband Internet across the country, using a fiber optic network, is partially completed; however, 1,100 kilometers of segments must still be installed, work that will be made possible by the WARCIP Mauritania project cofinanced by the World Bank, in the amount of US$30 million, and the European Investment Bank. With open access, all operators/providers will be able to use fiber optic technology under non-discriminatory, transparent, and cost-based pricing. The new legal and regulatory framework will ensure interconnection and access to these different segments.
Access connectivity brings fixed broadband Internet from the backbone to the end user (for example, with ADSL or WiMAX solutions) or mobile Internet (for example, with 3G or 4G/LTE technology). Investment in access networks is the responsibility of operators, who compete across the entire country.
With broadband infrastructure in place, the next major undertaking in implementing the strategy is the rapid development of applications, and content. Mauritania has already laid the foundation as it will construct a building connected to broadband Internet in Nouakchott, with donor support. The building will include datacenter facility space, essential open infrastructure for installing service platforms and hosting applications and content developed by private and public actors. For example, e-Learning applications will offer users (enrolled students and school children, public officials, non-governmental organizations) the possibility of benefiting from training and continuing education via the Web. e-Health applications will help bring health services by professionals (particularly doctors ) to remote areas, using ICTs for the purposes of diagnosis, treatment and prevention, research, and continuing education.