How will fibre-optics contribute to GDP growth?
BONGO ONDIMBA: Fibre-optic infrastructure is a prerequisite to developing 3G and 4G networks in Gabon. As part of the Emerging Gabon strategy and ANINF’s Information System Development plan, three phases of development have been identified, all of which are part of the Central Africa Backbone project, or CAB4. The first phase links Libreville to the Republic of Congo through Franceville, allowing internet service providers and telcos to roll out 3G/4G networks across five provinces: Estuaire, Moyen-Ogooué, Haut-Ogooué, Ogooué-Lolo and Ogooué-Ivindo.
Social and economic impact studies have been conducted, pinpointing the potential for service development. We estimate that Gabon gains an average of 1.3% in GDP growth for every 10% increase in bandwidth capacity. Moreover, the project will support industry in areas like Haut-Ogooué, where the mining sector is taking off. It is also important to get support and raise awareness amongst those living in remote areas in order to diversify economic activity.
A $58m loan has been granted by the World Bank to fund the project, which should start in the next few months and take up to 15 months to complete. The project does not face any particular technical challenges, as most of the fibre-optic infrastructure will be built along the Transgabonais railway line; however, extra care will be taken on the environmental side, as the infrastructure will pass through protected parks managed by the National Agency of National Parks.
The second and third phases will connect Libreville to Malabo in the north over a distance of 2000 km and Libreville to Pointe-Noire in the south over a distance of 1300 km. The financial aspect remains a challenge, as these two phases have yet to be financed. A memorandum of understanding has also been signed between Gabon and the RoC to foster better connectivity. This shows that things are moving ahead in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community.
What e-government services are being created?
BONGO ONDIMBA: ANINF has rolled out 80 km of fibre-optic cable to connect all of Gabon’s administrative units, including 40 km in the Libreville area and 40 km around the provincial capitals. This serves as a pilot platform whose capacity will then be shared with other private and public institutions. This development plan includes creating websites for each ministry and email addresses for Gabon’s 110,000 civil servants. In this regard, many e-government services have already been developed. An e-tax system was set up in 2013 in conjunction with the Ministry of Economy, which allows companies to pay their taxes online, and the government is also planning to develop services such as e-visas. E-education is another priority, with ongoing projects to implement internet services geared towards schools’ administration, teachers and students, including the development of school management systems and online student files, and the rollout of a schooling map in the country.
How will the digital migration impact the sector?
BONGO ONDIMBA: Gabon signed the Geneva agreement in 2006, which requires that the country shut off analogue television in the ultra-high-frequency band by June 2015, and the very-high-frequency band by June 2020. Although this migration is technically doable, investment from public or private institutions is still needed to implement digital terrestrial television (DTT). An ad-hoc platform must be set up to define the technical, institutional and legal frameworks, and the regulatory scheme. Once completed, the migration to DTT will allow for further development in the audio-visual sector. In particular, we expect the number of channels to grow, with three new general-interest channels, four local special-interest channels and other foreign channels. This diversification will facilitate the development of local content providers, including the launch of programmes in local dialects.
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