Senegal lagging in internet access, report says

Senegal, a decade ago amongst the frontrunners of African Internet adoption, has fallen behind in terms of Web penetration, according to a study, with weak regulation and rigid licensing laws at the heart of the problem.

Ten years ago Senegal, a country with a population of approximately 13 million people, had more than double the Internet penetration of Nigeria. Yet Nigeria has in recent years leapt ahead, with 30 percent of its population enjoying access to the web compared to Senegal’s 16 percent.

A recent study by the consulting firm Balancing Act, commissioned by Google Africa, titled “Obstacles and Opportunities for the democratization of broadband in Senegal” found the main problems preventing greater Internet penetration in Senegal seem to be weak regulation and rigid licensing with regards to network operators.

As a result, the incumbent operator holds a de facto monopoly on access to the national fibre infrastructure and the copper lines into households.

This lack of competition keeps Internet access prices high – it costs US$400 to get 1 Mbps/km capacity in Senegal, as compared to only US$20 in Kenya.

The report further found that competition is increased through more liberal licensing regimes in Kenya and South Africa. In Kenya, for example, the number of infrastructure licenses doubled over the past three years and now counts 30 providers. Similarly, in South Africa the number of ISPs soared to 726, up from 326.

The consulting firm commissioned to conduct the study had a few propositions regarding several key changes, these include:

- Internet suppliers must be authorised to build their own infrastructure and compete against incumbents.

- Government should encourage competition and transparency in international capacity by enforcing existing but until now ignored regional regulation.

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